Q+Art: Jewelry Artist Katja Prins Contemplates the Relationship Between Technology and the Human Body
“The flesh is weak,” Jesus reminded his disciples just before his arrest. He would very soon be proven right. No match for whips, nails, and thorns, his flesh fell open, bloodied, beaten, and in serious need of gauze bandages and a speedy ambulance. These modern inventions wouldn’t appear until many centuries later, but their arrival—along with just about every other human invention, from the wheel to modern vaccines—was meant to distract from our mortality and prolong our death.
Netherlands-based jewelry artist Katja Prins crafts work that walks a fine line between human flesh and the technology that sustains it. “There has always been an interdependency and connection between us, the ‘organic,’ and our artificial surroundings,” she writes in her artist statement. “This relationship supports humans in their survival.” Prins’ work hinges on the theory that man is not a static being. Constantly in flux, we cope with awareness of our own mortality by inventing objects that push pain and death further into the background. Up until somewhat recently, these inventions were more like external appendages: Walking sticks, eyeglasses, and even clothes and shoes. Today, electric pacemakers mimic the human heart beat with embedded software, while spinal cord stimulators ease chronic pain with mild electric currents.
Prins’ work explores the meaning behind our rapid evolution toward a hybrid existence. Crafted from moldable plastic and matte silver, her pieces are spare and muted in color, like a futuristic hospital—sterile, minimalist, and slightly unsettling. There’s a sense of detached optimism in the pale flesh colors and methodical designs, as though the artist is stuck between two visions of the future: “Will this merger create a utopia where we are highly intelligent, blissful and indestructible ‘super humans,’ or will it bring a dystopia where we are subjugated by the powers of biotechnology and information technology?” she wonders.
What Jesus said about the flesh all those centuries ago is still true. Bones still break. Hearts still fail. Our loved ones still die, despite our best efforts. Prins’ work contemplates the future of our flesh, whether we walk into a cyborg paradise, unplagued by past vulnerabilities, or stumble into something much darker. Prins is comfortable living in the grey area, but she has reason to be optimistic. Jesus may have had doubts about the integrity of human flesh, but, as he noted in the same sentence, “the spirit is willing.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Katja Prins discusses the relationship between technology and the human body, listening to podcasts about death in the studio, and the new, intuitive 3D modeling.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
KP: All the novels by author David Mitchell, and recently I discovered Are We Human? Notes on an Archaeology of Design by Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
KP: I'm a big fan of the work of Magali Reus, Helen Marten, Isabelle Andriessen, and Laure Provost, but I don't necessarily need to have dinner with them.
What are you trying to express with your art?
KP: I am fascinated by the relationship between technology and the human body. Through hybridity, will the human species become less like the living and more like dead, material objects? What to think of this willing objectification of our own bodies? What is the end goal? I am both anxious and excited about the simultaneously healing-protective and toxic-destructive properties of technology. This ambivalent fascination is what I try to express in my work.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
KP: Sure, I think many artists do already, just like me. But it all depends on the platform, of course. Larger institutions should finance the artists.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
KP: Buying materials that I might (or not) use one day, and losing myself (and my time) while surfing the internet.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
KP: That I have survived already for more than 20 years in my field, that all this time I have been able to develop and make my work, teach at interesting places, and travel the world while doing that all.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
KP: Making is all about looking, and looking is all about thinking.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
KP: The “thinking in boxes" mentality of many gallerists, curators, etc. "One is either an artist or a designer,” things like that.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
KP: Haha, both of course, but I'm already grateful for having been able to do (and show) what I do already for so many years at so many places.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
KP: I used to listen to all kinds of music while working in my studio, from jazz to hip hop to film scores, but lately I prefer to listen to podcasts. The other day I've been listening to a podcast about the Dutch slavery history, and now I'm into a series of podcasts around death and the dead body. Super interesting. I learned, for instance, that the borderline between death and being alive isn't so strict at all. Once you are clinically dead, there are a lot of cells still alive and working…so when exactly is one really dead?
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
KP: Although I've kept working on new work, pretty much as usual, it has slowed down everything, and not all in a good way. I have the feeling that because so many things got cancelled, it took away the momentum out of a lot of plans that I had. Which is a total pity and I feel like I need to recalibrate myself. Although we're opening up again in the Netherlands, I have the feeling that everything is still pretty slow. But hopefully that will change soon, fingers crossed.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
KP: I'm working on a new collection, a new body of work in which I'm designing with a specific computer program in order to 3D print. I'm still in the phase of learning the program, but so far it's very interesting, since this program (Anakirk 3D Design) is a program specifically developed for “makers.” It's a non-cad way into 3D modeling, and a more intuitive way of computer design with a haptic device which actually allows you to “feel” the form you're working on.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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