Altering Physical Functions: The Re-Design of the BodyNatural and Manmade: Medical Design and some other Design Frontiers

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This paper focuses on forms of medical design that are in close contact with the body, acting as physical embodiments that make use of and re-form the body. It looks at specific forms of tools, garments and instruments for the body that operate at different levels as therapeutic solutions and consider the body as central reference for design. Such physical and conceptual strategies that evidence a (negative?) invasive side of the ‘designed body’ can be perceived as a symbolic production of forms of living, bearing a symbolic justification for the human condition. Like the corset, the Victorian ‘strong clothing’ or the Asian foot-binding that modified the body form, textile and other corrective design appliances provide physical therapy as a form of control, restriction and repression (both physical and psychological). By fitting closely to the body, these designs enclose both materials and devices that end-up to function as part of the body, as its artificial extension, becoming indistinguishable to its ‘user’. They questions the boundary and relationship between body and object and change the social relations that the body can engage in. More than functional tools that held, modified, and affected the body, medical instruments for body constriction reduce the vocabulary of gestures and movements changing the usual representation of the body, marking bodily de-construction and re-construction. As designed objects (products of art, design, craft or/and of technology) that emerge as cultural referents, they address the human relations and their social context, within a cultural life that distinguishes forms of practice, forms of wear, and models of how objects are incorporated into social life. Case studies spanning from medieval forms and tools designed as forms of torture to modern, contemporary medical designs, will illustrate the inversions in the relationship between the body as object and the body as subject, exploring the practical and moral consequences of breaking down the boundaries between humans and things.The paper questions the concepts that engendered these forms of constriction, construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of the human body, examining how they have been produced and on what occasions they are used. It intends to explore whether their design or artistic forms are interpreted as constitutive of culture with social significance as material objects: can they be perceived as a symbolic production forms of living?
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUnknown Publisher
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 12 Oct 2008

Bibliographical note

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