But for designer Bart Hess, the surface is the object. In his hands, metal becomes fur-like, shaving foam looks like polystyrene, latex takes on the qualities of silk, silk becomes flesh, and wax emulates delicate satin drapery. He works like an obsessive-compulsive craftsman to achieve material perfection, pushing the material to just before breaking point. For Hess, perfection means the material is imbued with an organic life of its own, not forced but effortless. “I don’t want people to be able to see my hand gestures”, says the Eindhoven-based designer. “For me, the most magical thing is when a material can still behave as it wants to but has been pushed to its maximum. So it almost starts growing by itself in the lab, because I’ve created a system to push it into that shape.”
Gorgeous bodies are not the only reason Hess’s work drips with eroticism, without any conscious intention by the designer. Rather, the eroticism of his work is more in the mind. For instance, he likes “to play with that moment where you want to touch it but the material creates a distance between you”.
While working for a museum forces Hess to utilise materials that have a long lifespan, he has also started to explore the half-life of his favourite one of all, latex. Repurposing the reams of flesh-coloured silk-like latex created for the Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne 2015, he has installed the Royal Latex Bed in his studio. Within a few months, the texture is already hardening and the colour yellowing, like a body in decay – a far cry from our sleek futuristic associations with latex. By pushing standard surface associations beyond recognition, Hess is exposing the design of both the physical and psychological. We need more nuanced examinations of surfaces as we negotiate between the physical and the second skin of the hyperreal. Which brings us back to Bataille: “I believe that truth has only one face: that of a violent contradiction.”