Return to the Work of Erik Maser
The Birth of Modern Beauty is a conceptual art piece that explores modern societal notions of physical beauty while simultaneously critiquing the potential of scientific trends in human genome manipulation in contrast to natural methods of human conception. Utilizing the ideas inherent in the open source culture movement, the piece uses appropriated images applied to a three-dimensional structure that remains free from fixative adhesives to allow for its constant growth and modification by anyone interested in manipulating its structural "source code".
The cardboard skeleton stands as a nonworking conceptual prototype of a machine intended to "give birth" to modern beauty, which is designed to work as follows: the mechanical arm extending from the back of the unit inserts a manipulated or edited genome code (represented in standard notation as clusters of letters) into the slot at the top of the machine where it enters the mechanical womb and transitions into an incubation period in which the genome is scientifically processed and fertilized in a complex alteration procedure invisible to the observer. After a standard period of growth and metamorphoses, the final aesthetically pleasing product, in this case an attractive photograph of Marissa Miller (a modern beauty), is ejected from the bottom of the machine.
Of course, this cardboard machine does not in fact produce stunning images from genetic source code, but rather foregrounds two very relevant topics in modern culture. Related to photography, the project calls attention to the digital manipulation of the human figure to create distorted images of beauty in society. Here, a sort of metaphor is created between the digital manipulation of a photograph (whose makeup is in fact a string of numbers) and the genetic source code (made up of clusters of letters) that determines a human being's physical characteristics in reality. This connection can be made by noticing the presence of the "code" visible through the transparent skin on Marissa's chest on the image ejected from the machine. This code emphasizes the fact that Marissa's image is not a true representation of her physical self, but instead a highly manipulated and idealized one. However, we still view her form as beautiful and visually appealing, despite her edited representation, and significantly it is this highly idealized form that many people have come to physically desire in their real lives.
Related to science, the The Birth of Modern Beauty foregrounds the highly debated topic of genetic manipulation. After the discovery, in 1966, of a unique genetic code embedded in every human's DNA molecules, scientists were actually capable of realizing a whole new possibility of creation---that of manipulating genetic source codes in order to create desirable characteristics. But they did not. Immediately after the discovery, scientists viewed the code as a new way of understanding the fundamentals of life and how the human body functions based on specific codes, without truly considering the possibility of manipulating the code itself to fit human aspirations.
In more modern times, specifically after the advent of more advanced digital technologies, there has been a significant shift in the thought process surrounding genome codes. It has been a shift defined by the changing aesthetic norms of our modern society, one that I believe is largely connected to the idolization of the manipulated human form- the exact form created via extensive digital photographic manipulation. Scientists have moved from seeing the genetic code as a way to understand more fully the workings of the human body, to seeing it as a way to discover the secret to actually obtaining and creating idealized appearances in humans.
Taken to an even further extreme, one could imagine a world in which parents would be able to shop for a baby with specific characteristics by simply submitting their preferences to a scientist who would then encode a genome with the desired traits. In the future, a machine like The Birth of Modern Beauty could be realized to its fullest and completely non-conceptual potential. This conceptual cardboard machine explores exactly that potential.
Also, The Birth of Modern Beauty investigates issues of mechanical reproduction by juxtaposing the very engineered and mechanical quality of the structure, with its machine arm on which are pasted appropriated industrial images of gears, with very traditional (although technologically produced) ultrasound images of developing babies in their very natural habitat- the womb.
More than anything, this project is designed to interact with the spectator in a way that no other collage can. The structure is meant to illicit spectator interaction in the most physical sense, by requiring the viewer to move around the object to inspect its many three-dimensional aspects and the many different images pasted on its various planes. Also, the project is intended to spur a myriad of questions in the viewer's awareness regarding those issues described above, or even countless others--
Why the anatomical similarities to a scorpion? Why make a conceptual machine open source? Why leave some cardboard surfaces bare and cover others with collage imagery? Why is Marissa Miller the chosen one?
All valid questions.
Return to the Work of Erik Maser