Inspired by the Raëlian movement, photographer Valentine Bo envisions machines giving birth to babies and humans performing face transplants for clones
For a long time, Valentine Bo’s photography was concerned with documenting the mundane everyday. His first series, from 2012, consisted of spontaneous, often humorous snapshots of ordinary life in Kiev, Ukraine. But Bo’s latest body of work, Your Next Step Would Be To Do The Transmission (launching at Foam Talent in London this Wednesday) departs from documentary to explore photography’s potential for evoking fantasy and fiction.
Your Next Step Would Be To Do The Transmission takes place in a lab. There are bodies of contorted and embalmed animals inside glass jars. A miniature baby floats atop an eerie red substance in a flask. Things get even stranger when humans step inside the frame: an old woman wearing nothing but a thong and a pair of heels performs a face transplant on a young girl whose lower body and chest are covered in the foil-like material that spacesuits are made of.
This bizarre, pseudo-scientific universe was inspired by Raëlism, a sect whose adherents worship aliens and believe that extraterrestrials scientifically created all living things on Earth 25,000 years ago. Valentine Bo first heard of them when reading the Wikipedia entry for CLONAID, the world’s first human cloning company founded by the Raëlian movement in 1997. In 2002, the cloning lab alleged it had created a baby clone of a 31-year-old American woman. In Bo’s series, the topless old lady with the manicure represents Brigitte Boisselier, the head of CLONAID. The white girl on the operating table embodies Eve, the name given to the alleged first human clone.
Raëlism became a fruitful source of inspiration for the photographer, who found that the movement’s doctrine encompassed far more areas than reproductive cloning. Raëlians’ seemingly progressive views on sexuality had led them to advocate for causes such as sex positivity, sex workers’ rights, birth control, abortion, condoms, and masturbation. They even founded “Go Topless Day”, an annual event to support the right of women to go topless in public because “as long as men are allowed to be topless in public, women should have the same constitutional right”.
Allusions to sex come through in images of dildos, artificial flesh, and vulvas that are wired up to various colourful machines, as to evoke a future in which sex’s only function would be for pleasure and one in which babies come out of machines. A neon sign references “Clitoraid”, a controversial humanitarian project started by the Raëlians to combat female genital mutilation.
The series’ visual inspiration came to Bo in the shape of dreams. “While interpreting the information regarding the activities of Raёlians, I began to record the images that frequently arise before my eyes before I fall asleep,” he explains. “This way I do not recreate the plot by trying to replicate the details, but rather build up my own set of symbols, allegories, associations, and connections.”
Compared to Bo’s previous, more immediate form of photography, this series required an “intensive process” that involved building a set design and casting people to play the characters he had imagined. It was important for him to create his “own entourage” and to “personally manage all the details”, he says. “It took about five months before I could visualise the plot and begin taking pictures.”
Bo sourced props from flea markets and Chinese online shops. Though certain elements, like the mask, involved sophisticated technology such as 3D printers, others were way more improvised and manual. He explains: “The human embryo I made from polymer clay.”
Though Bo’s series is built on the history of Raëlism, that is not its primary focus. The story, according to the photographer, examines broader questions around “conformity, sincerity, and pretence.” For him, the movement’s controversial claims are not only entertaining but pose questions about how people manipulate and deceive one another in absurd and imaginative ways.
Valentine Bo’s series Your Next Step Would Be To Do The Transmission will show at Foam Talent’s exhibition in London, the launch is on Wednesday 15 May, and the show opens 16 May – 16 June 2019. More details here and here