Amsterdam- and Vienna-based artist Sonja Bäumel‘s works combine science, fashion, and design into a tangible visualization of the many invisible processes of our physiology and the biological scientific method. Basing many of her works of scientific data and using the aesthetic tropes of scientific experiments, like sterile plastic and boiling-0ver petri dish cultures, she creates Frankenstein-ian living prints, fragile synthetic skins, and crystal bodies to show the potential of science and its powerful yet haunting implications. After all, from where does a compulsive desire to prolong life stem, if not from a fear of death?
Bäumel’s obsession with skin surfaces through many of her works. She states on her website that skin is, “the layer between the outside and the inside…It is a layer full of life, which serves as a membrane for exchange.” Her project Crocheted Membrane (2008-2009) explored how to combine bacterial growth and fashion to create a textile with potential to thicken and thin depending on the wearer’s body temperature: “What happens if we make the micro world of the human body perceivable? I want to confront people with the fact that our body is a large host of bacteria and that a balanced perception of the body is closely linked with a balanced perception of the self.” Despite their fragile beauty, in her images, the membranes seem to sneak up their wearers’ arms, slowly engulfing the bodies they caress.
Her works also address the sinister potential of scientific advancement. As society devotes more and more money and resources to synthesizing medications and creating artificial limbs, we develop our obsession with biological “progress.” Encasing glowing crystal hands in vitrines and fashioning gleaming crystal bodies, immune to decay, Bäumel evokes the magic of the scientific experiment, the seeming creation of an object from nothing. Her works provide a dramatic visual for an often abstracted process of data collection.
Sometimes, Bäumel uses her own body as a subject and a medium. In one work, she replaces a layer of bacteria on her skin with an artificial layer, later creating an anthropomorphic “print” from the bacteria’s reproduction. Some works address the creation of hybrid humans through synthesis; others employ science to alter living bodies. The beauty of her works lies in their delicacy; her works quietly show science’s evolution, but her works’ haunting stillness implies how the creation of super-humans necessarily renders normal humans obsolete.