Art has the ability to challenge status quo, evoke emotion, inspire societal change and influence technological advances. Film director, sci-fi artist, TED Fellow and body architect Lucy McRae has managed to do all above through her work that investigates the future of the human body shaped by technology. McRae questions the body’s limits by placing it in complex sci-fi-esque compositions, exploring the scientific possibilities for the future of human health.
Author: Siphilele Magagula
Image: Courtesy of Lucy McRae
Back to the Ancient Greeks, Protagoras introduced the concept of "man as the measure of all things". Along this line, the Italian renaissance sparked constructed - humanism, a human-centered approach expressed through art, philosophy, science and politics. To this day Western societies have been fascinated by the human body and brain capacities.
At the core of her projects, Lucy McRae uncovers this fundamental question: ‘What makes us Human?’ - in an increasingly digital and disconnection dystopia. Although her background is in interior design and ballet, Lucy McRae presents herself as a body architect and artist. She works on scientific discoveries related to human health and technological advancements and has collaborated with tech companies such as NASA, MIT, Philips Electronics, to name a few. Through her explorations McRae blurs the line between artificial and natural, making the viewer question where technology ends and the body begins by putting it in various complex, futuristic scenarios. She has been listed by Fast Company as one of 50 designers shaping the future.
Body Architecture: How Science and Technology Are Reshaping The Human Body
McRae uses multiple media such as film, immersive installations as well as collaborations with other artists through music videos to develop her vision. Through her body architecture projects she prompts scientific conversation on the future of health and beauty. We explore a few of them.
1 | The Institute of Isolation
Humans are social beings. Studies have revealed a connection between social isolation’s and mental illness. In order to have a thriving urban population, interaction and a sense of community are vital, but what about in a different civilization beyond. In the observational documentary entitled ‘Institute of Isolation’, McRae explores methods how the body can function in isolation with the aim of improving its resilience for potential survival in outer space. She questions “If the body can be resolved in an environment of isolation, would we be more resilient, faster to adapt and more buoyant when faced with the obstacles of life beyond Earth’s edge?” The documentary explores the continuously changing link between the body and technology as McRae, who plays the protagonist is seen moving through sensory chambers - referencing sensory deprivation, genetic engineering and space travel.
Video courtesy of William Crouse
2 | The Future Day Spa
A spa is synonymous with relaxation and stress relief. In Lucy McRae’s “Future Day Spa” imagine the future of wellness as a personalised experiment, offering “treatments that evoke states of love, trust & relaxation” . How? Through simulation of hugs. Here, participants are guided individually by a therapist (the artist) into a futuristic glass paneled room and instructed to lay down underneath a pressurised sheet while a controlled vacuum was used on their bodies to recreate the sensation of a hug.
Research shows experience of pressure on the body has a calming effect. In this experiment, biometric technologies are said to have been integrated into each treatment in order to record physiological changes to participants’ bodies. The physiological and psychological benefits of this experience could warrant further research into developing similar treatments for people with cognitive disorders.
Video courtesy of Lucy McRae
3 | Morphe
Video courtesy of Lucy McRae
Australian skincare brand Aesop commissioned Morphe a short film which explores how technology will transform the experience of health and beauty in the future. The film illustrates how we will consume food, medicine and cosmetics in a liquid–tech world, where super-sensory beauty treatments deliver medicines via the skin and hair.
McRae's work poses important questions about human evolution, health and wellness through technological advancement. . Although her art comes across as science fiction, it is very much set in a reality - our future reality. McRae shows how it takes breaking disciplinary boundaries and reshaping our approach to human health to uncover groundbreaking solutions. We will be following the progress of her projects.