Can we create clothes from our own body?

A future-thinking artist wants to turn human skin into wearables

By Sophia Kercher

On a brisk Los Angeles evening, Argentine artist Joaquin Fargas is outside a brightly lit gallery questioning why humans wear clothing. “Why are we the only animals that have to be dressed?”

Fargas waves his hand in the air. His demeanor is playful, with his sly smile and style: a shaved-bare head; deep-rimmed, black-and-orange glasses; and a T-shirt featuring an Einstein portrait in Warhol neon.
 
 Do humans wear clothing because we are not covered in fur? Or because, unlike primates, who walk on all fours, our genitals are always on display? Or do we wear clothing because it allows us to display our inner selves in a visible way? 
 
 These types of questions that explore where we came from, who we are, and where we are going have fueled Fargas’ 30-year career integrating art, science, and engineering. During a 2012 performance in the lobby of Teatro General San Martín, the largest theater in Buenos Aires, he extracted his skin with the help of a tattoo artist. That same chunk of flesh is now being harvested in a lab to one day be made into clothing in collaboration with visionary fashion design students at the University of Buenos Aires. 
 
 “Maybe in the future, instead of having a closet, we will have a nursery or bioreactor — something like that — where we have different kinds of skins to use for different days,” Fargas suggests, his eyes lit with excitement. He says he envisions his “Biowear” project producing a special skin that people would wear to protect against radiation, and another skin for when they go to work or to a party.
 
 It is “the possible” that motivates Fargas’ work. He is currently the art director of the Bioart Laboratory at Maimónides University of Buenos Aires, which he founded in 2008. There, he breaks boundaries between science and art to initiate dialogue about questions humans have been asking for millennia.

Joaquin Fargas photographing his “Biosphere Project”

On this winter night at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Arts gallery space, his “Biosphere Project” art installation is on display. Plexiglas and polycarbonate orbs concealed with delicate plant life hang from the ceiling. Temperature and light sustain these floating ecosystems. “That gets people to think, ‘Oh, there are plants in here, in an environment that is completely closed. How did he get plants to survive? Where does the oxygen come from?’” Fargas says. “The same question is the question we can ask to our ‘planet.’…The goal of this project is to raise awareness on the fragility of our world.”
 
 In another environment-focused creation, Fargas ventured to Antarctica, where he developed his project “Extinction-Creation” with a robot that pushes snow into ice. “Many glaciers are melting, not just because of climate change but because of mining, and we have to do something about that,” he says.

The disappearance of glaciers, of course, means a rise in sea levels, which potentially could be catastrophic for coastlines, buildings, cities, animals, and people. His project explores whether humans could speed up the process of forming glaciers, which are slow to develop in nature. “I think that we must do something, even weird things,” Fargas says, “because if we do nothing, the risk of the glaciers disappearing is very high.”

The “weird” is what gives Fargas’ work the power to provoke in ways that pure scientific data cannot. His projects don’t have to go through the same scrutiny as the work of his scientist colleagues, giving him the freedom to probe the unexplored and the fantastic.

“I like to use the words ‘future science’ instead of ‘science fiction,’” Fargas explains with a grin as he reflects on his would-be wardrobe of human skin. “Because this is science that we can possibly use.”

Sophia Kercher is PrimeMind’s editorial director.

All photographs courtesy of Joaquin Fargas

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