Lucy McRae is thinking ahead. Like 2,500 years ahead
A lot of us have a hard enough time deciding what to scrounge up for dinner. Lucy McRae is thinking about life in the year 4,600.
She’s not alone. Science fiction writers have spent plenty of time imagining the distant future. But McRae is not a science fiction writer. She’s a science-fiction artist. She makes short films involving lots of silvery Mylar, condensation-soaked plastic, and edible body parts, among other things. They are gorgeous, cryptic, slow-moving and strange.
In “Jamming Bodies,” one finds a lovely blonde woman being gently sandwiched between two gray megapillows. In “Make Your Maker,” a lovely blonde woman uses her own body as a test bed in the preparation and distillation of human body parts. In the “Institute of Isolation,” there’s another lovely blonde woman (in this case McRae herself) in anechoic, psychoacoustic and hyperbaric chambers, not to mention on a “microgravity trainer” consisting of a massive clear-paneled hamster wheel tilted horizontal to the floor of the gym in which it was filmed. In “Future Day Spa,” the sci-fi “spa” vacuum-seals spa-goers in a metallic-looking Mylar membrane.
“Anticipating life 2,500 years from now requires curiosity, experimentation and maybe the absurd,” she recently said. “So we need science and imagination. If we are going to live this long and depart this far away from the origins of where we were born, we may need to evolve in very unusual ways.”
McRae doesn’t pretend to have a crystal ball.
“Art doesn’t give immediate answers,” she said. “It provides the conditions of possibility. These art works are opportunities to understand and visualize what life could be like that far from now.”
“Make your Maker” is, in her words, among her “extreme explorations into genetic speculation” (The Biological Bakery being another). If we are moving toward a “designed body,” she asks, would our parents choose desirable traits for us? Or would we ourselves, as in the case of “Make Your Maker,” choose our own traits? (Spoiler alert: the short film closes with the lovely blonde woman eating a bit of the Jell-O-like tissue of her own creation).
“Eating yourself in order to improve may seem a little far-fetched,” McRae said. “But what’s important is to hover the imagination and provide a platform to discuss how these scientific breakthroughs are slowly reconstructing us. If we are going to be born from scratch in a plastic dish, what does this say about our mind?”
The “Jamming Bodies,” “Future Day Spa” and “Institute of Isolation” were inspired by the notion of future space travel to, say Trappist-1, one in which isolation would be a big component. Physical compression is a recurring theme, born of McRae’s own experience of unexpected physical well-being when in the sorts of synthetic full-body hug-o-matics depicted in her films.
More than 100 people have sampled the “Future Day Spa” experience, she says. Among the feedback: it felt like a “relaxing nightmare,” it was a hangover cure, and “it put my body back into place.” One person with self-described haptophobia — fear of touching or being touched — rose from the experiment and hugged McRae (not your typical haptophobic behavior). Then he asked if he could take the experiment home with him.
It turns out that real-life hugs trigger a feel-good rush of the hormone oxytocin, a.k.a. the “cuddle chemical,” among other monikers. It could well be that artificial hugs can do the same thing.
Which could have implications in treating conditions such as autism, depression and anorexia, McRae says — and a lot sooner than the year 4,600.
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