What could be more tantalising than a collab between an offbeat, anti-commercialism photographer and a deconstructive set-designer with shared childhood angst? New York-based photographer Benedict Brink and set designer Mila Taylor Young have joined forces to create a humorously absurd, high fashion photography collection. Collectively, the duo has worked with an abundance of world-renowned publications and brands, among them Dazed and adidas Originals. But it’s not Brink and Young’s impressive work repertoire that makes this collab so intriguing, it’s their mutual ability to project the generalised anxieties in the world – particularly in culture and politics – deconstructing, then visualising this in a comic way.
The Body Building exhibition disassembles, abstracts then reassembles the body in a high fashion yet low budget, horror-esque way. The images capture a brutal authenticity; the body becomes exposed in both organic and ridiculous ways through sexualty, repulsion, and vibrant colour. “Over the course of about a year, our conversations started to expand, and we were talking about childhood fears, new frustrations, and a sense of alienation or detachment we sometimes felt – a feeling of being disembodied and alienated from ourselves,” the duo explain. Having travelled and moved around a lot from a young age, both Brink and Taylor Young think this shaped their way of relating to the world and themselves. “We wanted to make something together that described those feelings of strangeness and look at how a body can be this horrific, repulsive thing, but at the same time a beautiful machine.”
Explaining how the horror genre provides a framework for the exhibition, they say, ”the simultaneous camp-ness and existential terror highlight the fine line between laughter and screaming. We made a lot of wearable pieces or costumes which we shot in the same way that we would shoot an editorial, which adds to the absurdity of the project. We would ask our models to perform for us as if they were wearing a designer dress and not a mesh suit embroidered in veins for instance or a plaster rib cage.”
The duo became excited by the DIY nature of horror special effects. “We started watching a lot of ‘Making Of’s’ of the classic horrors: Nightmare On Elm Street and Hellraiser – they’re all fresh out of art school and have no idea what they’re doing. It felt very accessible, using simple mechanics and common household objects, a lot of condoms, and lube, it turns out.”
Body Building addresses, according to the collaborators, our ”fascination with seeing the body disassembled” in an alien way – the body in abstraction – then reconstructing the self and ”taking ownership of the body, in all its weirdness”. “The words ‘body building’ immediately bring to mind a certain ideal or an idealised body. We wanted to make the opposite of that – a body that is worn inside out, organs on the top – something not ideal and not comfortable, presented as though it is normal – like a bad dream,” they explain. And the duo plans to continue collaborating. “There’s still so much in this subject matter that we didn't even touch upon, it’s going to be hard to shake this obsession.”
Body Building runs at 61 Hester Street until 27 October 2019, 12pm-6pm