Trained in classical ballet and architecture, body architect Lucy McRae appears almost unreal. Most descriptions of her fall into predestined linguistic limitations, Her work is all encompassing, transcending intersectionality, working in areas which are essentially boundless. McRae is a futurenaut, she remaps the logic of futuristic (r)evolution of beings, lifting the foundations of self-proclaimed society impregnated with Darwinian comfort, tearing with a sci-fi Blade laying them back as an incubated athlete of superhuman proportions.
Interview by Liucija Adomaite
Hello, Lucy. The list of subjects you research and work on is impressive. The body & genetics, skin, manipulations, transformations, bio technologies, cloning, digesting, extracting, excreting. What do these subjects mean to you? Please explain the symbiosis in your work and what relevance it has to the world.
They all encompass human augmentation; manipulating and optimising the body with science from one state to another. I tend to treat technology like an elastic, buoyant material and find ways of merging it with the body. With a long history in classical ballet the body is always the familiar starting point for my work and the body is something that everyone can relate t..
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a range of garments inspired by a recent film I directed called The Institute of Isolation. The film is composed of a series of sensory chambers that condition the body, one room features a Microgravity Trainer which is a weightless ergonomic device. The range of garments take visual cues from the film and will blend familiar notions of life ranging from sleep cycles, exercise patterns and sexual routines.
You speak about the concept of "maybe technology" that takes the form of in-between, like a liquid, an amoeba. How does it come out in your work? Do you feel that with time it's changing or does it remain constant?
The concept of “maybe technology” was the idea that scientific know-how, machines or electronic ‘things’, were blurry having no hard edges or physical limitations, but would be swarms of matter, or malleable atmospheres that constantly reshape. This may sound far-fetched or nonsensical, but if you think about technology as biology (with molecular characteristics) then it does become a maybe. In the past I have experimented quite a bit with water, creating second skins that change colour, like the liquid textile I made for ROBYN’s Indestructible music video, that explored how emotions (constantly in motion) can coexist in the digital world. This ‘in-between’ is exciting because it’s incomplete and never fixed which means you can give it [the in-between] new meaning – What happens when technology becomes the size of a blood cell and we can ingest it? If the body is perpetually in motion, then this is the birth of maybe technology?
In August 2011 in collaboration with synthetic biologist Sharef Mansy you developed a swallow-able perfume, a pill that turns your body into an atomizer and springs the odour out of the skin. The primary function of the bodily scent was altered to transform the secondary functions, such as release stress, signature of sexual arousal, or body temperature control system. It seems that the pill perforated the sense of one's identity, once taken for granted. would you say it's a new chapter in biotechnological practice?
At the time (2011) I was exploring how the food and beauty industry was somewhat alienating us from our primal selves; deodorants masking scent and food severely modified from its farming origins. I wondered if a biologically enhanced natural body odour would influence more of our animal self? If so, this would usher in a new chapter and drive the beauty industry beyond affectation and change the way we mate and seek sexual partners.
I am interested in when works such as the pill are no longer a work by Lucy Mcrae but a part of everyday life. At what point do you feel this occurs?
Organism companies like Gingko Bioworks (who design custom microbiomes) and Emulate (who place “organs-on-chips”) are steering the next steps and pioneering human related biotechnology, the food and nanotech industry are also big influencers. I know colleagues at Gingko Bioworks and directors at Emulate value the artistic process and share similar thinking regarding innovation and serendipity. I’m talking with early stage bio and life science startups interested in creating a pilot Swallowable Perfume, so time will tell :)
In one interview you've mentioned the arrival of the idea that when travelling long distances the human soul doesn't travel as fast as the body, as it gets caught up somewhere. I wish it were a fairy tale told by Mum's to their kids before falling asleep. Tell us about Babies in Space the experiment in which you tried to find out what will happen to growing foetus' in an altered gravitational space. What was your experiment with NASA like?
It was a telling encounter with Alexander MacDonald who advises NASA Administrators on economics and policy, that set me off on the trajectory to explore “NASA’s concerns with growing a foetus in zero gravity”. This unexpected encounter led me to a very smart woman, Lynn Harper, whose focus is to bring the biotech revolution to space. Both Lynn and Alex have massively inspired my work examining the implications zero gravity has on the body and possible health benefits it could have on ourselves today. Outcomes of these NASA conversations have resulted in the Future Day Spa which is a science fiction sauna that prepares the body for the rigors of weightlessness and more recently The Institute of Isolation a short film premiering at London Science Museum that looks at the body beyond Earth’s edge. I value bringing elegance and femininity to emerging technologies and want to influence culture via scientific breakthroughs relating to health, beauty and biotechnology – I guess that includes babies in space :)
In most of your works, we face the potency of the human body. Once it's frontiers are transgressed we pass the clinical point. What do you suppose is out there that you are looking for? The pursuit for eternity crosses my mind.
The “edge” was the first thing that came to mind. I was listening to a podcast yesterday about the limitations of consciousness, and really, there are none. Each of my projects is, in one way, exploring the biological edges of the body, whether it’s blurring them with swallowing technology (and perspiring a scented mist) or exploring the unpredictable nature of psychology when isolated, a particularly important theme as Elon Musk’s mission is to create a settlement on Mars. Perhaps not knowing what you are looking for is good and the pursuit is to learn how to deal with the uncomfortability of the unknown.
Tell us what your most important project is, in your opinion.
Each project is a continuation from previous work, so in a way they are all connected. I always had a soft spot for Make Your Maker, which was a personal investigation into the self, questioning whether gender and identity could be mixed like a chef makes a cake (in a world where liquid technology prevails). The last project on isolation was a challenge to depart from previous film aesthetics, wanting to tell a story in a different way and (for the first time) I’m the protagonist in the film.
Your background in architecture manifests in an interesting way in your work; structure, construction, erection, you're prototyping the future. What do you believe the future holds?
Like science fiction does, we can narrate stories that prototype future scenarios and artworks become mechanisms for calibrating the future. A smart lady artist said that ‘art does not give immediate answers’; I really like this – we are suggesting conditions of possibility, which may ultimately manifest as real. I think the answer to “what the future holds” is in your first question about approach; to navigate internally and create work that comes from the core.
Thank you. You’re so incredibly contagious that think I’ve contracted you.