While you are doing your Christmas shopping you may happen upon a pop-up unit inside Princes Quay (ramp entrance) with an eye-catching, art nouveau sandal in the window.
The curving lines and decorative leaf and petal design demands closer attention. Look closer still and you will see it is displayed, side by side, with a similarly-designed two-piece accessory… a fully reticulating vine in bright green. This is the centre piece for Centre of Attention, the Square Peg exhibition that brings together the worlds of prosthetics, design and fashion with increasingly brilliant and bizarre results.
The exhibition showcases newly commissioned pieces made by The Alternative Limb Project. Sophie Oliveira Barata founder of ‘altlimbpro’ uses prosthetics to create highly stylised art pieces as in the ‘Vine’ prosthetic created for model and disability activist Kelly Knox. A film of Kelly modelling the Vine can be seen inside the pop-up gallery.
Sophie uses the latest technology, such as 3D printing together with more traditional crafts, using a wide range of materials, to create prosthetics that reflect aspects of the wearers personality.
This idea of the prosthetic moving beyond the purely functional is demonstrated by the interchangeable arm that is made up of half a dozen sections incorporating stone and marble resin and some incredibly realistic flesh. visitors to the Ron Mueck works at Ferens earlier this year, will recall the ultra-real figures in that show. Some of that same unnerving feeling returns when viewing this modular design: the close proximity of the rough stone sections beside the finely detailed skin for instance.
My first thought had been that this was like a display piece, made to show a variety of different materials the prosthetic could be made from. Upon discussion with designer Dani Clode I learned that the interchangeable modular design allows the wearer Kelly Knox, to choose which aspects of herself she wishes to express to the world: her spiritual side and her connection with the natural world for instance. ‘It was never meant for everyday use,’ said Dani, ‘However out of all the pieces Kelly really connected with this one, because of the way it became an extension of her personality.’
Deliberately avoiding the route of her peers who were busy designing chairs and tables, Dani found the idea of designing pieces that relate and respond directly to the body a far more exciting and fulfilling prospect. She began by designing and building a prosthetic digit for her Third Thumb Project
Dani explains to me, that when thinking about prosthetic design, you have to be aware of the fact that you are designing for a living thing: something that is alive that is subject to change. “Muscle growth and development can alter limb shape, changes occur due to weight loss and gain; changes in the way the wearer uses the limb and changes in the pressure applied to the parts where the prosthetic comes into contact with the body.”
In a making of film by created by Fly Girl Films – visitors to Centre of Attention can begin to grasp some of the method employed by Sophie when she embarks on a new alternative limb design like the ones on display. The process involves extensive consultation, Sophie brings in highly technical input involving computer aided design, 3D modelling, robotics and much more, while all the time putting the wearer/client is at the heart of the design and build process. The film shows designer and bionics engineer Jason Taylor at work building the circuitry and motors for the Vine creation.
In order to make the movement smooth and snake like as revealed in increasingly bizarre fashion in the demo film. Jason explains to me that the sleek movement is achieved by different pressure sensors hidden in the sandal that respond to the amount of toe pressure applied to them. The signals from the sensors are sent wirelessly to the four motors in the arm which then allow it to move.
Jason is an inspirational person, during an in depth conversation with him at the launch event, I learned about a life-altering nerve condition which could mean he has to undergo amputation himself, he is designing his Bionic Toolkit in order to enable him to interact with everyday tools such as screwdrivers, pens, knives etc.
Creating a tailor-made prosthetic that looks beyond the functional, celebrates body diversity, that becomes an extension of personality, feels particularly positive and progressive.
Centre of Attention in conjunction with the Alternative Limb Project successfully looks beyond the superhero/superhuman trope, to engage the viewer in radical ideas and notions of what future prosthetic design will be.
Centre of Attention is open to visitors every Friday to Sunday up to and incl 26th Nov