Eating food and verbalizing thoughts are just a couple of the indispensable tasks a mouth can do. But if you want to utilize your mouth on a whole new level, then Chinese artist Guo Cheng ‘s Mouth Factory is a perfect blueprint for how to make new use of your head’s most prominent orifice. With Guo’s mechanical invention, and a little facial muscle exercise, you’ll be able to put together an Ikea bookshelf using only your mouth.
A recent graduate from the Royal College of Art in London, Guo used his expertise in product design to create a series of mechanical tools operated through mouth movements like chewing and blowing air. Some of the tools in Mouth Factory bring to mind that frightening orthodontic headgear worn by unfortunate elementary schoolers, and some look like futuristic musical instruments. In the video, we see Guo himself engaging with these tools, drilling holes in a wall and performing household chores. His actions are a testament to the wide range of tasks our bodies are capable of, and we realize that each of us may be directly underestimating our multitasking abilities.
We caught up with Guo Cheng learn more about Mouth Factory’s inception and creation process.
What inspired you to create Mouth Factory?
Guo Cheng: I’ve always been interested in human sensation, response, and natural behavior. From armor to genetic engineering, we are always trying go beyond our own physical limitations. My work focuses on the oral aspect of the human body, to explore the mouth’s purpose beyond just talking, processing food, and breathing—for example, using your mouth to replace the functions of handicapped body parts, acts such as using your teeth to open a can, and behaviors like licking a wound or tearing out ingrown nails. The more they occur in everyday life, the more we take them for granted. With the support of oral apparatuses, the function of the mouth is expanded. In a broader sense, Mouth Factory exhibits the interactive relationship between man and object by developing and enhancing the organ’s functionality. At the same time, it amplifies the rhythmic aesthetic of the human body while operating mechanical tools, as well as revealing the pure beauty of the tools themselves.
How does the “Inhaling Vaccum” work?
Literally, I draw air out of the fiberglass mould after melting the plastic sheet mounted on it. Due to the vacuum inside, the atmospheric pressure will force the sheet material to fit onto the internal surface of the mold. The formed plastic can be adjusted after cooling down. The piston in the acrylic air chamber prevents me from inhaling toxic fumes from the heated plastic. A set of one way valves is used to hold the air in the mould when I breathe.
Is the process of operating the oral apparatus a performance, or is it a type of training?
There are two videos for Mouth Factory: One is about how to exercise facial muscles, the other is on how to operate the oral apparatuses. Just like every technician needs to be trained, exercising facial muscles helps to increase mouth functionality and yield better performance when operating the oral tools. Operating the oral tools also requires practical training.
The Mouth Factory videos all have a movie-like quality. Was that intentional? Do you use other methods to present your work?
I created five sequences for the videos, each demonstrating a different application of the apparatuses to show their potential as household tools, movie/performance props, or as work aids. But the actual purpose of the oral apparatus depends on who is using it and how it is used. So, these five skits are just hints allowing the audience to imagine more possibilities for using the tools.
As for the movie-like quality, I must say that I attempted to make them that way, but there were limitations. My creations aren’t regular instruments seen in daily life so rather than a pure documentary, I chose a story-telling method that would show the connection to, and distance from, reality. With enough preparation, I would like to demonstrate the tools live. Those improvements would make the Mouth Factory more intuitive and convincing.
What software and hardware did you use to create Mouth Factory?
I’m not good at computer modeling, so I always start out by imagining it in 3D first, in my head. After drawing a rough sketch, I create the two-dimensional spec sheet on the computer. Then I take the design to the metal workshop to assemble the parts. I use basic hardware such as a lathe, milling machine, and wire saw. My design for Mouth Factory became better as I understood how to use the machinery in the process.
If money wasn't an issue, how would you change your current setup?
I would recreate the tool parts with CNC or 3D printing technology. That would render the device more precise and comfortable to wear. Also, I would like to expand the oral apparatus to fit more than just one person. The current ones are all customized to fit my body, so they are not suitable for other people to use. If I expand the capacity of the apparatus, more people would be able to experience the potential of mouth functionality.
How will Mouth Factory develop in the future?
I would like to expand the whole series based on oral movements to fit more peole so everyone would be able to participate. I would also like to connect with professionals and scientists in this field to develop the project further.
Photos courtesy of Guo Cheng.