'Fluid_Body' design research project

Speculative product design / Book design / Design fiction

Project advisors: Prof. Dr. Michael Hohl, Dr. Tine Melzer
This study examines the potential of building alternative identities that are not bound with historically accepted bodily dichotomies in the context of daily interaction with technology. The interaction process, in turn, is considered as a possible way of revealing that the concept of ‚self‘ and perception of body image are soft constructs and may be easily influenced even without humans‘ awareness.

Our interaction with even the most simple technological devices are perceived as transparent and in general, we take for granted our enhanced qualities which are products of various prostheses that are seamlessly incorporated in our notion of the self. At the same time, if we reflect on this networking situation, the invisible joints between us and the external props appear. The significance of these findings, which show how our sense of self and body-image could be manipulated by technology, is undeniable. Therefore, this research addresses the following questions: 

I. How is it possible to notice ambiguous bordered states where our unions with even the simplest technologies allow us to reconsider the cognitive nature of social bodily-based gender dichotomies which are shaped by historically inherited narratives?

II. In what way has the cultural situation of postmodernism changed perspectives and general attitudes towards stable human body imagery and historically constructed social identities in the information society?

III. Can speculative design provoke destabilization of our traditionally acquired and gendered selves that we take for granted in our daily routine, and thereby trigger some changes in hierarchical social structures which would be at the same time more advantageous for women? 

For we shall be cyborgs not in the merely superficial sense of combining flesh and wires but in the more profound sense of being human-technology symbionts: thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and selves are spread across biological brain and non biological circuitry.
— Andy Clark, Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence.
Chapter I
Fractured body of knowledge
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This chapter highlights the contextual area and theoretical background of the research. It starts with a general overview of historical circumstances that have influenced changes in attitude towards traditional understanding of the human body in industrial and post-industrial societies (1.1 WESTERN NARRATIVE + 1.2 POSTMODERN BODY).

Afterward, a multifaceted product of the postmodern and speculative post-gender world called cyborg is introduced (1.3 CYBORG AS A METAPHOR).

The section ends with a glimpse on cyborg nature of humans in the technologically mediated society (1.4 LIMBS THAT DO (NOT) EXIST).
Chapter II
Speculative body. Shifting meanings
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The section begins with an introduction into the mechanics that lie behind speculative design practice (2.1 WHAT IF).

Then, a few feminist art projects are discussed in order to demonstrate that tactics of design and art are closely interwoven (2.2 IDEOLOGICAL PROSTHESES ).

Later a conceptual object, which animates the hypothetical design scenario, is described (2.3 IMAGE SHIFTING MACHINE ).

The chapter concludes with an overview of qualitative results obtained from users who had interacted with the speculative prototype (2.4 PARALLEL WORLD).
Your own body is a phantom, one that your brain has temporarily constructed purely for convenience.
— V. S. Ramachandran & S. Blakeslee, Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. 

Chapter III
Discussion & conclusion
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The project has proved that speculative design can make people aware of the mechanics that are hidden behind construction of familiar bodily images. The designed artifact allowed them to notice how their brain builds perception by means of visual stimuli mediated by external technology. In this way conscious reflection on and critical evaluation of some ideas, that are invisible inside the current cultural situation have been triggered, which in turn is promising because it provokes to some extent revision of historically accepted hierarchical relationships.