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Mutants, 2011

Bart Hess's fabulous freaks

The Dutch designer has spent years making high-tech, hyperhuman mutants. We ask why

Fiercely original yet oddly familiar, Bart Hess’s futuristic, Latex-clad Mutants have not only exerted a fetishistic pull on his online fans and Lady Gaga, but now Hugo Boss as well, in multidisciplinary celebration of their 20th anniversary at the Saatchi Gallery, HUGO: Red Never Follows. Despite Hess' hand-picked status among 19 other renown international artists who are creating exclusive one-off pieces for the event, the Dutch textile designer will be the first to confess the DIY sweat ethic behind his seamlessly gestural, top-notch digital productions. Not only is Hess a firm believer of the beauty in ugly, and the genius of the unexpected—it turns out, this self-ascribed ”geek” is still working out his private obsessions like the rest of us.

DD: You have such a distinct brand identity already. When did you have that ”Aha!” moment?

BH: During my graduation project at Einhoven Design Academy, where I did a series of fake furs out of metals, silicone, and plastics. It was the first time I combined film and art. That’s when I thought: this is what I’m good at, this is what feels right.

DD:Your productions look so smooth and effortless. Is there a lot of unspoken labor and anguish behind them?

BH: Yes, it was always a hard process of trial and error. And still is, actually. I sit for hours and hours in front of a computer as a geek, going online and looking for new digital tutorials. Production often takes many months with the help of family members and friends, but to the viewer it looks like its made in a lab—you don’t see the handwriting.

DD: Let’s talk about Mutants. When you subvert the human figure are you trying to shock, disturb, repulse us—or are you defining a new vision of beauty?

BH: I think the latter, because as an artist, its the most interesting boundary to work within. I love how tribes—especially from non-Western cultures—define beauty. For us its shocking, but for them its really beautiful. I want to challenge my audience to decide for themselves. 

DD: What inspired you to do Mutants in the first place?

BH: I was fascinated by the idea of physically morphing the body in reality, liquifying and sculpting it with the use of Latex . Its almost like 3D modeling, but in real life. I was also inspired by Space Odyssey 2001Terminator 2, and Italian Futurism.

DD: How are you revamping Mutants for Hugo Boss’s upcoming exhibition?

BH: I’m working with a sound designer to make it more clear that its analog, not a digital work made up of physical materials. The new edit will be a lot longer, smoother, and more colorful—obviously including the Hugo red.


DD: So the Hugo element in Mutants is the use of red?

BH: Yeah, it works well. When I had a talk with Hugo Boss, they explained how the red is like a fluid line that falls and changes, and I immediately thought of Mutants. I thought it fit the idea perfectly. 

DD: Any special high-tech processes or materials that make your work distinct?

BH: Its quite low-tech what I’m doing. For example, with Mutants, only the transitions between the three color changes are manipulated or digitally enhanced.  I love to work with basic material and lift them to another level, using software accessible on the internet. My film Echo, is named after a common software filter I used. People just don’t usually use it that way.

DD: So you’re just incredibly resourceful?

BH: I guess. I’m really patient, and don’t stress out when things go wrong.

DD: I envisioned Mutants as post-apocalyptic survivors, after the environment goes to hell. Are the transformations symbolic or literal?

BH: Symbolic. That’s nice if you see that, because that’s your story. Its really great to hear how people interact with my work and impose different values onto it.

DD: Does transmorphing have anything to do with gender-bending or power-dressing?

BH: All my pieces explore identity, and include a LGBT element. But its not only about changing gender: you can also change into an animal, or a hyperhuman. Its not always about changing for the better. I also like to explore a negative or dark, depressed side—I put all my emotions into the material itself.

DD: What are your private obsessions as an artist?

BH: My own body, getting older. Food, skin, space. I have loads!

DD: Have you ever thought of transferring your Mutants ideas into a ready-to-wear line?

BH: I can’t say I’ll never do it, but I don’t see the reason why I should. Everything I make is too crazy to wear on the street. Its not the most appropriate platform for what I’m trying to do: besides, people have to be able to breathe underneath all that Latex.

DD: What was the best creative mistake you ever made?

BH: With Mutants, I used an effect to slow the film down and there was an unexpected digital artifact, like when your computer crashes a bit and you get these odd shapes. I liked it so much that I slowed the footage down even more, making the images more electrified. I’m interested in how you can get the maximum out of an image with a computer program, by exploring how mistakes happen, and using the unexpected.

DD: What do you think we will all be wearing in the future?

BH: A lot of organic fabrics grown like vegetables. Cotton that is already designed to grow into a pair of socks. If you don’t like it anymore, you just throw it away and grow another pair. And animals, like a fox in the shape of a coat. You’ll go to a big H&M, where all these animal shapes are already predesigned.

 DD: What’s your next project?

BH: A big installation and live performance in Lisbon in September, where I plan to dip models in pools of combined water and hot wax. They’ll come out encased like statues, in weirdly organic but very architectural forms. We’ll then cut them out, and hang and display the end result.

DD: Does the audience get involved?

BH: No—they only get to watch. 

Catch Bart Hess’ work at Hugo Boss’ 20th anniversary exhibition HUGO: RED NEVER FOLLOWS, at Saatchi Gallery in London from July 31st 2013.