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What design can learn from Lucy McRae

Pushing boundaries and fusing the philosophical with the physical – Lucy McRae has carved out an utterly unique body of work (pun intended) that has a firm eye on the future. We talk with the ‘body architect’ ahead of her first retrospective show, now open in Melbourne.

  • Lucy McRae, artist and designer, inside Lucy McRae: Body Architect at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia. Photo by Eugene Hyland.

  • Lucy McRae, artist and designer, inside Lucy McRae: Body Architect at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia. Photo by Eugene Hyland.

  • Installation view of Lucy McRae’s Biometric mirror, 2018 Lucy McRae: Body Architect at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Photo by Tom Ross.

  • Installation view of Lucy McRae: Body Architect at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Photo by Tom Ross.

  • Installation view of Lucy McRae: Body Architect at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Photo by Tom Ross.

  • Installation view of Lucy McRae: Body Architect at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Photo by Tom Ross.

  • Prepping the body for space vol. 2 2014 still from colour digital video, commissioning agent Allure, Moscow © Lucy McRae.

  • Morphe 2012 still from colour digital video, commissioning agent Aēsop, Melbourne © Lucy McRae.

  • The institute of isolation, 2016 still from colour digital video, co-commissioning agents Ars Electronica, Linz and Sparks, Brussels.

  • Chlorophyll skin 2009, still from colour digital video.



BY

September 5th, 2019


The work of Australian-born, LA-Based artist Lucy McRae presents dysmorphic figures and poses questions for the future evolution of humankind. They are ideas conjured into reality with powerful impact. It seems fitting then that her recently opened retrospective at NGV Australia has created the perfect moment for pause and reflection on a career spanning 13 years.

Lucy McRae, artist and designer, inside ‘Lucy McRae: Body Architect’ at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia. Photo by Eugene Hyland.

“It’s really emotional because I’m not only absorbing the arrangement of the work in the space, but I’m also reflecting on how I was feeling when I was making the work. For some of the earlier stuff there is a sense of being out of my depth, which perhaps informs the emotions that I’m experiencing now reflecting back on it,” says McRae.

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“Working with uncertainty is one of the best ways to stay relevant.” – Lucy McRae
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Tapping into the uncomfortable is a method in McRae’s arsenal of creation, “Working with uncertainty is one of the best ways to stay relevant.” But living or working with “uncertainty” is inherently difficult to do. It’s human nature, and an incredibly ingrained behaviour of our time, to simply shy away from things that are too hard. “People do tend to gravitate towards things that are more certain. But I know that the magic comes when I’m out of my comfort zone,” explains McRae.

‘Morphe’ 2012 still from colour digital video, commissioning agent Aēsop, Melbourne. 

An equally important trait that McRae brings to everything she does is risk-taking, delivered with an unabashed fear of failure – another one of those modern aversions that McRae has found a way to effortlessly lean into. “Through enquiry and failing, and desperately wanting to find a breakthrough – that’s where incredible things happen. I’m dissatisfied working within constraints. My work is all risk-taking and the unknown, you have to embrace failure and the fact that everything might not come together,” shares the artist.

Installation view of ‘Lucy McRae: Body Architect’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Photo by Tom Ross.

Distilling her approach down for how designers might stay a step ahead, the artist comes back to science and the potential for it to coalesce with art and design. Hypothesizing on how these different worlds might come together, she says: “We live in a world where we can design life from scratch. Science is moving way faster than we can keep up with. Faster than the world that supports it. I think that combining imagination with the scientific process will allow us to really be sure about the decisions we’re making. Otherwise, all of those decisions around ethics and science and technology are being left to engineers and a very specific mindset, which is very different to the minds of architects, artists and designers.”

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“Contentment is a moment in time. It’s a breath.” – Lucy McRae
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On the surface, McRae’s work is science-focused and technologically-driven, which for designers or architects may seem irrelevant. But delve below the bells and whistles and there is a deeper meaning that speaks to human nature and perhaps what’s around the corner for civilization. It’s in this place that her genius comes to the foreground. “We are so uncertain about the future. So to practice being uncomfortable and to come from a place that is so uncertain is really the only way to move into the future,” adds McRae.

‘Prepping the body for space vol. 2’ 2014 still from colour digital video, commissioning agent Allure, Moscow. 

McRae’s underlying drive and energy come from what’s next, as she poetically summarises: “Contentment is a moment in time. It’s a breath.” By questioning, risk-taking and learning to be okay with uncertainty, design can take a leaf out of McRae’s book and start pushing into the great unknown.

How will our bodies inhabit the space around us in the future? Perhaps that’s a question the next generation of designers can answer together with scientists.

 

Lucy McRae: Body Architect is running at NGV Australia until February 2020.

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