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Design Column #5 - Body Building

from June 28 2013 until October 13 2013

Design Column #5 Body Building, photo: Lotte Stekelenburg Revital Cohen en Tuur van Balen, Electrocyte Appendix, 2009, Videostill, collection: the artists Studio Markunpoika, Engineering Temporality, 2012-2013, collection: the artist Elena Beelaerts, Salamander, 2007, Video still Design Column #5 Body Building, photo: Lotte Stekelenburg Arne Hendriks, The Incredible Shrinking Man, 2010 - present Studio Markunpoika, Engineering Temporality, 2012-2013, collection: the artist Design Column #5 Body Building, photo: Lotte Stekelenburg Revital Cohen en Tuur van Balen, Life Support 2008, Respiratory Dog, collection: the artists Leanie van der Vyver, Scary Beautiful, 2012 Revital Cohen en Tuur van Balen, Life Support 2008, Dialysis Sheep, collection: the artists Design Column #5 Body Building, photo: Lotte Stekelenburg

Design Column #5 Body Building presents a number of scenarios about our physical improvement, and illustrates the need to make choices. It sheds light both on progress and on the downside of it all.

We are living longer and staying healthier. And although the opportunities to improve our bodies seem endless, the resources clearly are not. We have to make choices. Do we invest money and energy into one line of research and neglect another? Practical and strategic motives are factors here, but our moral compass also has to be constantly reset. How far can we go in adapting our bodies? And is this choice defined by the economic situation? Now that growth is no longer unrestricted, where do the desires and boundaries lie?

Supporters of trans-humanism, for example, argue that we have arrived in a post-Darwinian era in which we can shape our own evolution. Trans-humanists strive towards becoming ‘post-human’ - a human being that has physically improved with the aid of computers, software, nanotechnology and genetic manipulation. The inevitable symbiosis of computer technology and the human body was the subject of The Matrix film trilogy (The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions from 1999 to 2003) but little by little it now appears to be becoming reality.

Ideas that make a difference

Every three months the Design Column focuses on a news item in the form of a small exhibition. The column is a place where new ideas are made visible, where the power of imagination is given expression. Designers and artists are especially interested in experimental imagination. With their idiosyncratic vision, they see things differently and are capable of bringing about change. The Design Column creates a space for these innovative concepts.

In conversation with

The Design Column is not only a presentation but is also an opportunity for reaction and dialogue. You are cordially invited to participate in a roundtable conversation that will take place on Friday 11 October 2013. If you would like to participate in this conversation, please contact the curators of the Design Column at designcolumn@boijmans.nl.

Blog Design Column

Accompanying each Design Column the museum keeps up a blog. Here you can find reactions and up to date information on the current and previous editions. www.designcolumn.nl

Leanie van der Vyver, Scary Beautiful

Almost every woman has a pair of high heels in her wardrobe, but why do people actually wear shoes with heels? It’s not practical or comfortable. Leanie van der Vyver asks how far can we and do we want to go when it comes to ‘improving’ our bodies. And what lies beyond perfection?

Van der Vyver crosses a boundary with her shoes. Wearing heels drastically changes the posture of the body, something that in the long term can have significant implications for our physical build. Consider the women in some Asian cultures who use neck rings to make their necks look longer - their muscles weaken and even their bone structure changes. The result is that they can no longer live without the rings.

Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, A selection of works

In their work Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen investigate the impact of biotechnology on our lives. New developments mean it is possible to make revolutionary improvements to the humanbody.

For example we are not restricted to employing machines to support our vital functions, we can use animals too. In turn we can use our bodies to provide machines with energy. These are scenarios that would not have been out of place in the film The Matrix (1999), but are now being seriously investigated by Cohen and Van Baalen. The duo challenges us to extend our concept of means of production to include livingcreatures like animals - and human beings as well. The possibilities of recent developments in3D-printing already point in this direction, with the first 3D-printed organs. Production material is not only plastic, steel or wood; it can just as easily be made from living tissue.

Studio Markunpoika, Engineering Temporality

The mind is an intangible given. Memories are not set in stone, they change over the years. This happens so gradually that you hardly realize that your own mind is playing tricks on you. Every time we cast our mind back to something, we embellish, reinforce or eliminate our past. Our brain adapts the memories to new situations and ensures that we take the stories we need with us. Memories help us to form a self-image, or in other words our identity.

The fugitive, changing nature of our memory is all the more obvious in the case of dementia. The memory is being eroded. The outlines of life can still be traced from a jumble of memories, but the connection between these memories becomes more and more fragile, until there is not even an outline left to see. This deterioration is poetically presented by Tuomas Markunpoika.

Arne Hendriks, The Incredible Shrinking Man

The development of society does not only bring good things. Prosperity also has its downsides. Continuous prosperity and plenty over the centuries mean people not only live longer, they have grown larger too. Designer Arne Hendriks alerts us to the consequences of this growth - if you extend an object by 10% you need at least 33% extra building material.

Hendriks comes up with a number of ways we can use our current resources, technological possibilities and knowledge to make ourselves smaller instead of bigger. If the height of a human being were reduced to fifty centimetres, it logically means that the demand for food, fuel and living space would drop considerably. What’s more, our burden on the environment would be drastically reduced because we would create far fewer emissions. In this scenario a great many problems would no longer have to be solved because they would no longer exist.

Elena Beelaerts, A selection of works

The work of Elena Beelaerts is an infinite collage of images and associations that investigate the human body. In her work she wonders how far we are at one with our bodies. What are you? Ninety per cent of our body is water, so most of the atoms in our body are water molecules. Our genetic material is scarcely different from that of a fruit fly or a ringworm - so who or what are we actually?

Beelaerts bases her work on drawings that she slowly expands into collages, installations or videos. She buries herself in her fascinations but also invites people to become participants in them. Together with Floris Tilanus (Almelo 1966) she is staging the Paleisje voor Volksvlijt event where she will be bringing together people from different backgrounds in music, art, science and the theatre. Paleisje voor Volksvlijt #4 takes place on 9 October 2013 and the subject is the human body.

The series Design Column has been made possible by Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie en BankGiro Loterij.

Design in Boijmans

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Round table discussion Design Column #5

Join the Round table discussion on Friday 11 October with Arne Hendriks and Michael Shanks. More information here.