Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design


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Design Science revolution has blossomed

These themes have both fueled and exploited significant improvements in special effects and make-up technologies that enable filmmakers to morph and mutate the human body beyond recognition. These shifts altered our conception of what makes us human and in doing so, enabled new conceptualizations and visualizations of the monstrous. Now filmmakers can and do depict anything that the human mind can imagine. They don't simply want to pull out our guts and shove them in our faces; they want us to relish their distinctive texture, their pungent odor, their sensual sheen.

After all, the horror film now competes with documentaries that can run fiber optics up every bodily passage and show us what the real thing looks like. As Linda Ruth Williams explains, "contemporary horror has specialized in making the inside visible, opening it up and bringing it out and pushing the spectacle of interiority to the limit to find out what that limit is. Such works pushed the current destabilization of our thinking about bodily transformations to its apocalyptic endpoint, creating images of bodies and identities stretched, mutated, ripped open, and stitched together again.

At the same time, any stable separation between the monstrous and the normal is breaking down. What might provoke unimaginable horror a decade ago might well become mundane and mainstream today. Consider, for example, how once unassemblable images pierced genitals say now surface as a conventional, almost obligatory, image in mass market men's magazines. As Clive Barker explains, "liberated from the constraints of classicism, the unjaundiced eye may greet the sight of the monster much as it greets things of beauty: with awe, fascination and a little envy.

It is this transformation of sensation and perception which links this popular art movement to the historical function of the avant-garde. Cronenberg joked about a future in which we might have "a beauty contest for the inside of the human body where people would unzip themselves and show you the best spleen and the best heart. As Barker explains, "This fiction is all about desiring other experience. It's all about wanting more than what our bodies apparently limit us to. Barker's Hellraiser films, for example, depict the Cenobytes as "ageless experts in the art of refined pleasure and even more refined pain"; his human characters are restless pleasure seekers who will pay any price for the ultimate sensation.

The film's imagery constantly blurs the line between the erotic and the horrific, juxtaposing a passionate sex scene with the image of a hand scraping across a rusty nail, depicting a woman kissing and licking the bloody fingers of her newly resurrected lover, or the demons lovingly reconstructing the splayed face of the protagonist like a fleshy jigsaw puzzle.

In Clive Barker's world, monsters see the world with the innocence of children, seeking out pleasure and sensation, refusing to respect the limits human morality places on the body: "The monsters concede no limitations. Amongst their tribe, eyes, ears, mouths, teeth, tongues, limbs, bellies and genitals are designed to devour experience on a scale we dream of as children, thinking it will be the reward of adulthood, only to find in maturity we were freer as infants. When the changes become too great, the infected take refuge in an outcast community, a modern day leper colony, on the outskirts of town.

Each teen initially confronts the "plague" in silent horror and self-loathing, confronting these changes in absolute ignorance, since no one dares talk openly about the bodily changes they are confronting. Burn's self-consciously lurid style, which mimics the conventions of E. Yet, as the work continues, Burns suggests more complex and ambivalent feelings about what the teens are becoming.

Designers should constantly expand their skills and upgrade

Consider for example two matching scenes. In the first, a young woman eagerly tongues the mouth-like opening on her boyfriend's neck "Nothing about you is gross. It was warm and salty. It was like the ocean.

A clean, sharp taste. And further inside, a tiny tongue. I could feel it trembling, fluttering up against mine". In the second, a boy discovers that the woman he is making love with has sprouted a tail which, without reflection, he integrates into their lovemaking "I grabbed it and it felt good. It was strong and alive in my hand.

I was holding on as hard as I could but it was slipping away. Both represent a conscious blurring of male and female sexual anatomy. Often, these popular artists sought ways of escaping human subjectivity altogether. For example, Ernst Fuchs praises H. Giger's work for Alien : "Here, for the first time, were images that I found to be completely alien in construct.

There was no human trace, tool mark, or evolutionary chain to grab onto.

American Furniture 1999

Nothing can be more difficult than to create something as a human being that has no human resonances whatever. It's a very negative connotation. For them, it's very positive when they take over your body and destroy you. It's a triumph. By the concluding passages, we view the destruction of the human race as a moment of transcendence, rather than an apocalypse.

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Humans escape the limitations of the body and the isolation of individual consciousness by becoming micro-organisms: "The small bursts upon him and his world is suddenly filled with action and simplicity. There is no light, but there is sound.

It fills him in great sluggish waves, not heard but felt through his hundred cells. The cells pulse, separate, contract according to the rush of fluid. He is in his own blood. He can taste the presence of the cells making up his new being, and of cells not directly part of him. He can feel the rasping of the microtubles propelling his cyticism.

Sensation along the membranes of his cells is intense. These popular artists, no less than their avant garde counterparts, are pursuing what has been one of the overriding goals of modern art trying to brush aside encrusted layers of meaning, shatter the "glass armour" of our everyday perception, and open us to fresh experiences.


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It is this goal of helping us learn to stop worrying and love being posthumans that links Barney's work and this "body horror" tradition. Like Cronenberg, Barney is fascinated with the ways that new synthetic materials facilitate radically different constructions of the human body, enabling him to materialize mutant figures from his imagination.

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Like Barker and Burns, he is interested in exploring new forms of sensuality. And like all of these popular artists, he is interested in reconfiguring core cultural myths from an alien or mutant perspective. And to cite some of the claims made by art critics, these popular artists, no less than Barney, are "mythographer[s] of a world less recognizably human," are attempting "to tell stories of gender and generation differently, " are developing "a choreography of the body's limits", and are exploring more "polymorphous" and "onanistic" structures of desire. Read in that light, we may no longer wonder what an artist like Barney sees in films like Hellraiser , Evil Dead II , or Society , but rather why Barney chooses the avant garde -- rather than the popular cinema -- to explore his pet obsessions.

Barney has himself expressed enormous admiration for Cronenberg and Barker, in particular, seeing them as artists who share his own interests in creating "internal landscapes" ripe with the possibility of metamorphosis and transformation. Yet, Barney also expresses some frustration that the horror genre does not allow them to sustain that level of abstraction for long, but instead pulls them constantly back to moral evaluation and conventional modes of thought.

Barney seeks through the avant-garde the thing that eludes these popular artists freedom from the constraints of narrative and denotation, a pure play with abstraction and connotation. Linda Williams has proposed the category of "body genres," to refer to forms of popular fiction, such as horror, pornography, and melodrama, whose aesthetics focus around images of bodily excess.

She writes, "The body spectacle is featured most sensationally in pornography's portrayal of orgasm, in horror's portrayal of violence and terror, and in melodrama's portrayal of weeping. Barney's work, on the other hand, is all about bodies under control -- perhaps stretched to the limits, perhaps doing things we never imagined possible, but also perfectly regulated.

He returns again and again to images of repetitive and ritualized behavior. I was struck, for example, by the bull-riding sequence in Cremaster 2. Bull riding in a conventional film might well conjure up a profound sensation of unboundness and a loss of control, as the rider is flung hither and yon by the pounding motion of the bull, barely able to hold on and almost inevitably going to be flung off into the dust.

Barney, however, films the bull as if its every rise and fall had been choreographed. The rocking bull becomes the very image of bodily constraint, sinking slowly to its knees, under drugs or some other form of bewitchment. Something similar occurs earlier in the film, when we see Gary Gilmore's conception.

Aesthetics of the Everyday

The sexuality is explicit enough that some critics have labeled it pornographic, but it has none of the sense of bodily abandon one associates with pornography. This is sex for procreation, not pleasure. Even when Gilmore's mother throws her head back in release, it seems as much a gesture of spiritual uplift as one of orgasm. Or consider the ways that Barney films the murder sequence. There is certainly blood spilt, yet the camera seems as interested in the stacks of tires in the foreground of the shot as in the murder itself.

Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design
Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design
Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design
Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design
Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design
Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design
Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design
Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design

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