What if the idea of bodily modifications was strictly introduced for the reason of pageantry? Can body mods lift fashion to a new plateau? The debut exhibition by Society of Spectacle, A. Human, hopes to open this dialogue. Acting as an immersive theatrical experience, the show aims to challenge the future of fashion: “If you could change your body as easily as you would [change] your clothing, would you?” A. Human portrays body modification through a futuristic lens, taking inspiration from the likes of science fiction and cyberpunk. Although it briefly raises questions related to, the show seems much less concerned with issues regarding technology and biology; rather, preferring to focus on the topic through a much more decidedly fantastical lens. Showing that body mods lift fashion in unexpected ways. However, the works appear to reject traditional notions related to body modification, such as spirituality, domination, and differentiation of class, in favour of pure decorative pursuits. By doing so, however, the exhibition also denies any ideas of permanence, rather than building on previous body modification literature, A. Human portrays their concept of alteration as hedonistic (re: rampant self-indulgence/delusion).
A particularly striking set of turquoise horns implanted on a woman’s shoulders, titled “The Pinnacle,” is described as a statement piece. The Italian designer Nicola Formichetti, former artistic director of everybody’s favourite brand Diesel, who helped collaborate on this particular modification added: “We might not even have clothes in 50 years.” This is the sort of hard-hitting insight that really helps to colour the A. Human performance. These declarations of body mods lift fashion unevenly. The idea wherein alterations to the self are the homogenization of irregularity, the commodification of counterculture. A rejection of humanity to the point where being ahuman is the aspiration above all else.
The world that A. Human creates is one in which hyper-saturation of technological capabilities has removed any significance from the idea of our current humanity. It is a civilization that has the ability to adorn, remove, and alter intricate organic features through surgical processes, or simply reconfigure one’s physiology strictly based on one’s mood. A society so vapid that all previous ideologies related to body modification are expunged due to a discrediting of temporality. But interestingly enough, it is also a world that maintains a semblance of materiality and self-esteem much like our own. Then, is this not effectively a distilled pursuit of fashion? Seeing as these bodily modifications are not performed for the purpose of utility, that there are no inherent functionalities to any of the pieces proposed, are they then simply imposed for the hope of individuality? Yes, that is the hope: they are designed and adorned for the purpose of spectacle, the fulfillment of self-expression. In A. Human’s eyes, these body mods lift fashion unstoppably forward. But in actuality, it is simply an exercise of the ego that this future society is participating in. Their rejection of technology as anything other than a means to perform costume changes further purports this self-aggrandizing attitude. But by reducing body modification to the equivalent of a wardrobe change, A. Human proposes nothing particularly impressive. We just have to look to David Cronenberg’s filmography to see a history of similar projects undergone, anybody can sit in a makeup chair for however many hours to achieve almost any style of macabre visual effect imaginable.
Essentially, A. Human is not a very well thought out project. As an exhibition, it does a fine job of creating visually realistic and often beautiful/horrifying versions of the human body. Ideologically, however, the show is hollow. By divorcing itself from pretty much all of the centuries-old dialogue related to body modification it prevents itself from carrying any substance. Instead the whole thing is more reminiscent of an Instagram trap, making people line up to get a photo with the creepy tentacle dude in the corner. It doesn’t even celebrate any of the technological innovations that already exist relating to body modification, even going so far as to deny any sort of support or relation to the existing community. It is really very frustrating.