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Lucy McRae's Body Architecture

Working with the likes of Robyn and SHOWStudio, the designer and artist transforms graphic conceptions of the human body

Lucy McRae is a 'body architect'. As a classically trained ballerina and former architect, the title "fabricated so she could get a job" loosely defines her work exploring the body and how its silhouette can be reshaped . Mediums used verge from lo-tech- using materials such as paper, grass and soap bubbles- to high-tech bio-sensitive software. Having created sculptures for the likes of Vogue and SHOWStudio, more recently she worked with Robyn having first realised their joint interest in "human emotion coexisting within a digital world" on Skype. Dazed talked with the artist and one half of Lucy & Bart about her designs.

Dazed Digital: How did you get into 'body architecture'?
Lucy McRae: Actually a 'Body Architect' is a made up title fabricated so I could get a job. I went for a job interview and the human resources guy asked me "So... What are you?" I said, "Well I'm not really just one thing; I'm a hybrid designer with a background in dance, architecture and design". This (un-pigeon-holed) response did not quench his thirst, so I left without the job. I called my soon-to-be boss and said "Nope, didn't get the job, they don't know what I am." The next week I went back, knocked on the door and said "I have come to tell you what I am". I said smiling, "I'm a Body Architect". "Okay", he says "Sign here, you start next week". From that day I worked as a Body Architect at Philips Design in a far future design research team that looks fifteen to twenty years ahead. Over these four years I worked on various projects related to the body and emotional sensing. I worked with a team on making dresses that blushed and shivered with light, electronic tattoo's and electronic sensing jewellery. 

DD: What is it about the human body that inspires you?
Lucy McRae: I trained as a classical ballerina for 14 years so inherently I fascinate with the human body. I think it's not only the body that directly inspires me but rather the thought of how the human silhouette can be re-shaped. I enjoy working with ordinary materials and turning them into something else, making lo-fi look hi-tech. Robyn and I first met on Skype, she talked about the expression of raw human emotion, coexisting within a digital world. That technology is our new feathers, our face paint, our punk, the way we signal to each other our needs and who we are. The hairs on my neck stood on end, it was clear we were coming from the same perspective, I was hooked.

DD: Do you still do ballet? Does it help you understand the form of the body to translate into your work?
Lucy McRae:
I throw my jazz shoes on, once in a while and have been known to do 'the worm' at parties - but ballet, no. When I graduated from university in Australia I moved to London and worked in architecture for five years. It felt good, but something was missing. It was not until I started collaborating with one of my awesome friends Didi that I started working with the body again. I feel comfortable working with the 1:1 scale of the body, architecture just felt too big and not fast enough.

DD: What was it like working with Robyn?
Lucy McRae:
Awesome. She works so bloody hard and never complains. For the Indestructible shoot we worked for twenty two hours, at 3AM Robyn was wrapped in a kilometre of tubing draped over her head and body, filled with air and water, this is heavy stuff and each take she belted out her song impressively. Me and the dream team had never done anything like this before, the whole project was happening for the first time. The machine was super loud, we had four leaks which meant we had to stop shooting, mop and re-set the technology, there were chaotic moments that could have been potentially disastrous and the entire time Robyn was working with us, smiling, moving when the tubes were stuck and just super happy we were making it happen. 

DD: What are you working on now?
Lucy McRae:
I have a show in the Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo with Bart (one of my collaborators) in November, I head down under in January to run a workshop with some architecture students and next week co-direct a fashion movie for Louise Goldin and Nick Knight via Skype in fancy dress!