This article was originally published on November 17, 2014 but we think it still rocks!
Self-described body architect Lucy McRae set out to investigate the intricacies of growing a baby in space. The work eventually evolved into a unique day spa titled Prepping the Body for Space that vacuum-sealed audience members of the London Design Festival within metallic membranes. McRae was surprised how positively users responded to the experience, one that had the potential to be both claustrophobic and terrifying. Rather than become anxious, many mentioned that the vacuum was comforting and relieved various physical ailments.
She's continued to build off the concepts behind the work, and to reimagine how a project that was originally conceived artistically could have practical applications. The Creators Project spoke to Lucy McRae about the Prepping the Body for Space project:
The Creators Project: Let’s talk about the vacuum day spa that you showed at London Design Festival. How did you develop the concept?
Lucy Mcrae: It’s very bizarre how un-choreographed the trajectory of my projects evolve. The word ‘serendipity’ keeps recurring when it comes to how my projects take shape. Because for me, it’s like, each project whether it’s been done three years ago or three months ago, there’s no stopping or starting. It’s this long thread that I’m exploring. It continues on from the explorations I was doing around growing a fetus in zero gravity. I jumped on how the future of mobility is how the body will behave in zero gravity. My projects follow quite a similar creative process where I’m in my study by myself and exploring in a somewhat blind kind of way. In this particular one, sitting on a chair, with a vacuum cleaner, wrapping these membranes around my body.
Doesn’t that feel claustrophobic?
No, not at all. For me it’s not. I was sort of asking myself why is being in this terrifying, grotesque—but somehow beautiful thing—why is it relaxing? Then we found vacuum cubes, which are a three dimensional version of the same asphyxiation. I was thinking “there’s got to be a medical reason as to why this is pleasurable, apart from the asphyxiation” and then within 20 minutes, it was like this kind of really fast epiphany, where I then discovered through looking at S&M cults that NASA in the 60s developed this lower body negative pressure device which was a chamber that pumps blood to the lower extremities because of gravitational pressure.
NASA developed it as a rehab method for astronauts didn’t they?
Exactly. NASA built a lower body negative pressure device to pump blood to the astronaut's lower extremities. Discovering the connection between space travel and what I had been experimenting with was an incredible moment. To discover my work could be underpinned by fact, that it had the potential to have some medical and scientific relevance, made it all the more important to continue working on. I continue to find incredible relationships between where I want to go in an intuitive, artistic way, and where science has gone or could be going.
You produced a piece where audience members could experience vacuum therapy for themselves. You even had people come back for multiple treatments.
Yep! This guy said “it puts my body back into place,” another said “I feel like my back’s better,” “it’s like a relaxing nightmare.”
What’s the next step for vacuum therapy? Is this something that we all might eventually have in our homes?
Well I’m now at the point where I want to prove the concept. I’m interested in human performance laboratories where you can biometrically send what’s happening to the body on a minute level—so I want to now take the next level of actually being able to let people know what’s happening to their body while they’re inside this vacuum.
What does it feel like to make art that may end up having real-world implications?
The fact that vacuum therapy could become a part of something that’s an everyday ritual for improving the biology of the body is a phenomenal concept to me. These are certainly aspects that I’m looking to develop at the very, very early stages.
Is performance/experience a medium that you’ll keep working within to explore that?
I’m wanting to take this area of research by collaborating it with experts who can prove some of the real scientific and biological effects of what I’m doing, but at the same time continue in a very artistic way. Even though I love making films, I’m also now interested in creating experiences. In films, I love creating these alternate worlds that people can, with their eyeballs, look into. But if I can create alternate worlds that people can actually step into, and if they’re willing to become a character in that world, I think that it’s great to create moments where people are vulnerable. I like the idea of that. In my experience, some of the most shifting moments are when I’m really out of my comfort zone. I’m interested in creating those experiences.