Interview of Bart Hess
« Searching for the limits of the material and the body »
Do you find your sensitivity more close from fashion, art or design?
All of the above. I think at the core I’m a material researcher. However, besides the material I also create the context, either in photography or film. At times, I find it difficult when people approach my work from a certain discipline whether it be fashion, fine arts or design. Since I find it most interesting to create work which has elements of all these different disciplines.
Even though people link my work to fashion, I’m never too aware of this whilst I'm creating. In my collaborations with Nick Knight and Nicola Formichetti I was able to explore this side of my work more. My work is all about an intuitive and experimental way of creating but at the core there is always a concept or rules that for me determine which choices to make. I think this way of working is strongly linked to the way I was schooled at the Design Academy Eindhoven.
Which worlds do inspire you the most : artistic worlds (some special artists, fashion designers, musicians, video/cinema makers ?) or is it all about nature, science and technology ?
I’m not sure there are specific ‘worlds’ that I get inspired by, but they are definitely certain themes that are important within my work. A big part of it has to do with my fascination for the human body and the manipulation of it. Searching for the limits of both the material and the body almost as a modern fetish interpretation. It’s about creating a tension between both, almost as if they become one.
I didn’t want to limit myself to textile design so early on, so I choose a way to extend my materials via other media such as film and photography. This way of working gives me the chance to play with another fascination of mine: the illusion of analogue versus digital. The funny thing is that there is hardly any technology involved in my work. Everything I do is based on handcrafts and low-tech materials. The outcome is sometimes very futuristic looking, alien-like or almost resembling a new form of genetic modification but at the base there is always a material and not some kind of digital effect.
« Half of the time I’m physically working on my materials, and the other part I’m constantly behind my computer. »
In the way you transform the body, do you want to express fantasms or threats about the future?
My inspiration comes from medical articles, transhumanism, prosthetics, genetics, the virtual computer landscape and many more. My natural obsession is with texture. Foam, slime, spines and spikes, metal fur, breathing materials, projections, spots, lumps and bumps : there is nothing straightforward in my work.
There is a lot of handcrafting that goes into my work, but it is almost invisible. Instead I prefer people to feel the work has grown in a lab. There is a fusion between the organic and technological, between the physical body and the inanimate. Half of the time I’m physically working on my materials, and the other part I’m constantly behind my computer, starting from scratch and making everything virtually. Both worlds and your mind get mixed. Blurring the boundaries between the body and the technical, man-made or unreal. I think people feel that technology is hard and cold and sharp. Visually, that is really fascinating to me. You can’t look back – you have to think with a sense of freedom. You have to be completely free and open-minded. There are no clichés yet to fall back on and that is really nice for me.
In your photo or video artworks, where do digital effects start and where do they finish?
Like is said before my work involves a lot of handcraft and a lot of work behind the computer. These two opposite work-methods inspire each-other. Personally I think that making for example an animations helps me to think differently about the movement of a textile.
The liquified project is a good example. It's a project were I explore the limits of the material slime. Inspired by the liquify effect on photoshop, I wanted to translate it into real life, giving myself the opportunity to manipulate the body by blowing up certain parts and downsizing others. The main purpose ofworking with the slime, and its most intriguing aspect is the visual fusion of the human skin and the material. We have no idea where the body ends and the slime begins: it’s almost as if the body is melting. I can see that people find it more intriguing when effects are made by real-world techniques. It is almost like people think it is too easy to create something in post production.
At the moment I am exploring the mix of both worlds, it started in my movie Echo. It uses a simple but complex post production technique of repetition in movements. With minimalistic expression of the body and movement of material, a structural form is created, a semi-virtual bodysuit that can only exist on screen.
« I think the future technologies will work together with nature. »
Your work seems as well related to high-technology as nature. Do you think high-technology is the best way in the future to reach nature?
I have a big fascination with genetic manipulation and it's possibilities in the far future. I love researching about beauty expression from tribes and new trends. But it is not my intention to communicate this in my work. I think unconsciously my projects do touch upon these themes though. In my work I look for a low-tech way to tell a certain story. With the correct lighting and the perfect selection for materials a pantie-hose stuffed with balloons can give the illusion of pumped up muscles. I think the future technologies will work together with nature.
Can you tell us what complement can bring your researches in the collaboration with a fashion designer ? For instance, what brought your work to the one of Iris Van Herpen ? What the work of Iris did bring to you ? How different was it from a collaboration with Walter Van Beirendonck?
It’s always a great experience to see how fashion designers interpret my materials. When I create my materials I have a closelook at how they behave, their shape mostly originates from this research. Fashion designers look at it in a different way as they translate it in to clothing. This needs a different view, a more ‘functional’ one I think which sometimes also gives me renewed view on the material. Most fashion designers I’ve worked with found my work online. With Walter that’s a different case because we met when I did my internship with him as a student. The work I did for him was mostly graphic design and animation.
Skin King by Walter Van Beirendonck. Animation and Graphic Design by Bart Hess.
« Most of my latest projects were based in a beauty context. »
Does it happen you are consulted by some industries for your researches?
Most of my latest projects were based in a beauty context. Even though industries don’t ask me directly I do get requests about my view on beauty a lot. I’m curious what this will bring in the future. The only big ‘industry’ I worked for directly was for Philips. I worked for their Probes Team, a team that researched how new technologies will have an impact on the human body, aesthetically and through fashion. I created several future visions for them.
Can you tell us about your present and short-term future projects?
Currently my project Caged is on show at Arrrgh! Monstres de mode at la Gaîté Lyrique in Paris. On the 17th of march my first Solo Exhibition will take place at the State Museum Twenthe in the Netherlands. The upcoming weeks I will be working on a collaboration with Theo-Mass Lexileictous and Kev Stenning as well as preparing for my new project at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale.
Interview by David Herman for Standard Magazine x Gaîté Live