PURE HUMAN By Tina Gorjanc
How did the idea of creating leather products from skin come about?
The project was always designed as a critical design project that on one side aims to showcase a possible future application of biotechnological processes in the field of the luxury industry and therefore advocate a more ethically acceptable alternative to our current leather goods. And on the other, it aims to expose loopholes that are present in our legislation that allow the exploitation of human genetic material in the commercial market.
The luxury industry has shown quite a big interest in biotechnology in the past few decades. That, combined with the fact that the majority of the population can relate and identify with the context of luxury goods much faster than any other products within our society has resulted in the luxury industry being the perfect platform to showcase the problematic that the project is trying to expose.
The purpose of the speculative collection, of which the surface of the material is designed to mimic the characteristics of human skin, is to expose the identity of the source used as a raw material. As similar types of genetic exploitation usually happen in the medical and pharmaceutical field on a molecular level, those materials are usually dehumanised because of their scale. The Pure Human collection aims to humanise back the product by showcasing a scenario of exploitation that already occurred several times in the medical field in the past and translate it into our commercial market of luxury goods, making it more relatable and understandable to a wider audience.
Why DNA from Alexander McQueen?
To set the record straight, this is not an Alexander McQueen project – although it was advertised as that in the media. McQueen was presented as one of the possible examples of genetic exploitation that could happen in the future as the legislation protecting our genetic material is failing to keep up the pace with the advantages of our technology.
I can understand the confusion regarding the project as commonly the facts that were stated in the articles were quite ambiguous. I believe that this misinterpretation of the project was partly played out intentionally by the media – the shock factor probably generated a vaster amount of click baits. However, a really big portion of the blame can also be attributed to the misunderstanding of the design direction of the project due to its novelty, as well as the complexity of the presented design scenario.
With that said, I still believe McQueen is a really good example of how the exploitation of genetic material can occur, which is exactly what the project is advocating against.
What does the process look like and did you run into any problems, were there any complications?
The process to develop the leather-like material would include a combination of procedures found in the field of synthetic biology, tissue engineering technologies and standard leather tanning techniques. All of those processes already exist in our commercial market on a large scale; however, they are commonly used for different purposes around the globe.
The biggest problems that such a technology is still facing are that it is still not developed to the point where it would be a financially viable substitute to our current production techniques. It still requires a greater deal of research that would allow its implementation in the market.
At the same time, I believe that one of the biggest challenges that such material is facing (if it is developed) is the acceptance of the public in terms of a shift of mentality regarding the human body and its materiality.
How difficult was it to implement the project?
The project is a speculative design project and therefore the material itself was not developed beyond experiments proving a possible path forward. However, I did apply for a patent application that if granted would protect a material that was developed from human genetic information as a source. Contrary to the common belief though, the purpose of the patent application is to showcase that even though the project is set in a speculative scenario, the context of its products is still very much applicable to our commercial market and that the fictional luxury brand Pure Human can be easily developed within our current legal framework.
What are your next projects and plans for the future?
I was quite lucky to be approached by different companies and stakeholders from various fields that have very different interests in the project. That allows me to shape my work into several really different paths – producing more critical and speculative design projects, work on the implementation of a version of the presented products for a more sustainable option for a commercial application, working within the academic field as well as being an advocate with talks and exhibitions for the new emerging design field that I really believe has a viable application in our current society – critical, speculative and contestable design.
Do you have a motto?
There is nothing that people must do; there is no way that people must be.
Interviewed by Anja Korošec; Photos: Tina Gorjanc, Sidonie Garnier and Maryam Goormaghtigh from Arte; Vic Philips from Single Malt Teapot.