Repulsion, awkwardness and awe – Bart Hess applies body knowledge to Nike's 'Feel London'
Bart Hess is hyper real: creating mutant skins and future body encasings, engaging our senses on new levels of repulsion, awkwardness and awe. In his latest body of work, ‘Mutants’, fashion designer Hess trapped models in a web of light tubes inside latex, and recorded their animalistic convulsions and forms.
For Nike’s ‘Feel London’ series this week, celebrating the primal technology of the Nike Free Hyperfeel shoe, Hess was invited to apply his fascination with the body to sports performance in a ‘Feel of Fashion’ workshop.
The workshop participants, MA Textiles Futures students from Central St Martins, spent the morning running the streets of east London with barefoot runner Kris Rai. They wore the Hyperfeel, which mimics the natural and sensory laden act of running barefoot. Returning to the workshop, they worked with Hess, Rai and the Nike Innovation Kitchen to design and create textural ‘skins’ based on their experience, using unexpected materials.
Entering the Nike 1948 space, Hess’ darkly creative influence on the workshop is apparent. Someone oozes black paint into a white sock until darkness seeps through, while other participants pace the room, their feet encased in rubber gloves that mimic simian limbs. Hess is found lying on the floor, photographing the participants’ creations as they run on a green screen treadmill. Around them a series of art installations pulse and flex.
From the unnervingly soft tarmac of the Nike 1948 entrance, to digital sculptures that follow your movement in neon threads across the screen, ‘Feel London’ is a hyper-assault on the senses, where to feel doesn’t just mean to touch. We present a five-point guide to what it means to ‘hyperfeel’, with Bart Hess.
“I try all of my materials on myself first,” says Hess of his textile explorations. “It’s being totally comfortable with the material and the body, I really like pushing the limits.” Often this results in personal injury and pain, such as recent experiments dipping limbs in molten wax and water, tried first “one thousand times” on himself. By pushing the body we break free of natural boundaries, in both design and sports performance, and enable exploration of new and future environments.
TACTILE DIGITAL WORLDS
In his work Hess reassesses unnecessary digital barriers, to create tactility in virtual worlds. “We play with our phones [yet] they don’t have structural feeling. Scientists say children will suffer from future conditions because they no longer feel. With Mutants, it looks computer generated, but when you see how it is created it is quite intense. You feel the tension on the body. I like that a video can do that without [you] touching it.”
“When they ask me, ‘why do you work with the body?’ [I say] it makes so much sense,” explains Hess. “You always have your hands with you, so if I have a material I naturally start by putting it on [my hands]. Angelene Fenuta, MA Textiles Futures student, used the Feel London workshop to explore such primal movement. “Our feet are no longer as important as our hands in what we feel,” says Fenuta. “Yet, when you’re running you interact with the surface and the motion. We wanted to show this contrast and create a consciousness of our feet, using ball-lined soles. It’s like looking at how monkeys go round on all fours, except not digressing but moving forward and using feet in different ways.”
The Hyperfeel is used as a transition shoe by training barefoot runners, a Lunarlon foam base replicating the cushioned balls of the foot, yet not over compensating for them, while the outer sole mimics the foot’s hardened skin. Natural evolutionary protection inspired MA student, A Jin, who created a tree-like brace for the foot and leg in the workshop. “I was thinking about the environments we run in, the forests and trees and the land. How you interact with nature. I created branches around the leg, it’s protective and won’t hurt on contact.”
Hess has admitted to refusing to work with living materials, because “somebody already designed them - nature has its own rules.” MA students Hortense Duthilleux and Abby Summerfield, however, actively engaged with nature to illustrate their understanding of hyperfeel. “There are two hundred receptors in your foot which translate information to the brain,” Duthilleux explains. “We created a saddle to cradle the foot, and applied mud etched with the relief of the terrain to convey this idea of engaging your run, running against the elements, feeling your environment.”
Feel London, at Nike 1948, Arches 447-478, Bateman's Row, London EC1A 3HH
11th – 20th October
Watch FEEL TV live on Dazeddigital.com onThursday 17th October.