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The work of Bart Hess is of the most tactile and intuitive nature. He first delved into instinctive textiles when studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven, where he created A Hunt for High Tech, a collection of materials that mimicked the bestial outer layers of unfamiliar hybrid species, accompanied by an evocative film that brilliantly brought his concepts to life.

Over the past six years, Hess has developed an impressive roster of work. He has pinned, stretched, slimed and scraped materials in relation to the human body, and collaborated with the likes of Lucy McRae, Nick Knight, Lady Gaga, Iris van Herpen and Walter van Beirendonck. In 2013, he is the recipient of the Stichting Profiel prize and his work is the subject of a mid-career survey at the Rijksmuseum Enschede. The exhibition notes explain that Hess creates another world, one “in which technology melds body and object… when we don the materials and applications that Hess has created, we are transformed into a new but completely logical creature.”

Hess feels that our bodies are increasingly becoming a platform for sensitive and interactive technology, and has constantly exposed the intimate relationship materials have upon our skin, including a concept for Philips Design that mounted an electronic tattoo underneath the skin’s surface. “It felt like a natural instinct for me to start working on the body. When I create a new design I always place it on my own skin even-though it originally was created as, for example, a flooring material. The fascinating thing about it for me is the combination of a skin and a material. By using a material on the body that is not the body’s own, but making it look like it could possibly be, I create a tension between the body and material.”

Foamy, sweaty, blobular and molecular are the kinds of surfaces that Hess concocts. Flirting with a touch of the grotesque and the macabre, he explains that he tries “to find a balance between beauty and disgust or horror. I think the darker side of beauty has less restrictions because it hasn't been explored that much, which makes it more interesting for me to show to my audience”.[2] Through the use of design, film, photography and installation, Hess has found intimate ways for his textiles to communicate with their “audience”, and in 2012’s Work With Me pop-up studio, he was even able to involve some of them in the making process.

If Hess is on the hunt for tactilities that can transform the design landscape, he is definitely on the right track. By innovating materials that braise, coat or titillate the body, he has opened up a sensual and sexually-charged discourse about the future of smart textiles. Hess introduces materials to our primal needs and innate sense of touch, showing that fabrications will first need to seduce us before they can become part of us.

Text by Philip Fimmano

Artist: 
Bart Hess
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