Sensory Seas

For this collection, Iris van Herpen draws inspiration from the sensory processes that occur between the intricate composition of the human body, mirrored with the fibrous marine ecology of our oceans. The first threads of inspiration came from the Spanish neuroanatomist Ramón y Cajal.

He wanted to uncover something that no one had yet understood. He questioned; how does the brain engage in conversation with its counterparts? Exploring our central nervous system in microscopic detailing, Cajal documented his revolutionary findings through anatomical drawings that are considered amongst the world’s greatest scientific illustrations. Hunched over his microscope, he merged science with art and brought to life the threads of our enchanted biology to the human eye. Other inspiration stemmed from diving into the deep depths of the Hydrozoa, a class of delicately branched sea-life organisms. Shifting between a polypoid stage and a medusa stage, the Hydrozoa embroider the oceans like aqueous fabrics, forming layers of living lace. 

‘Sensory seas’ holds a microscope over the indelible nuances between the anthropology of a marine organism, to the role of dendrites and synapses delivering infinite signals throughout our bodies. It enchants the attention of how two processes of torrential messaging exist in an uninterrupted state of flux. The collection consists 21 silhouettes that illustrate a portrait of liquid labyrinths, where dresses spill onto the floor in elegant train and pigments gather in clouded pools of blues and lilac, leaking into one another like marble. Colourful meshworks of cellular geometry are translucently layered to create deep-sea aquarelles. Soft shades of greens, blues and gentle ochres are painted by Shelee Carruthers and juxtaposed with the warming reds of coral reefs. The flickers and curves of Cajal’s anatomical drawings are revealed in the ‘Labrynthine’ technique; 3D lasercut silk dendrites are heatbonded to blossoming leaves of black transparent glass-organza, to then be hand-embroidered onto lasercut pearlescent exoskeletons. The 'hypertube' looks are 3D printed from a single-lined web using white silicone thread, that is printed onto black silk-chiffon, twisting down the body. For the ‘Hydrozoa’ technique, cellular aquarelles of dark purples and turquoise were oil-painted and multi-layered into hundreds of transparent lasercut PetG bubbles. The glass organza halos were digitally printed, heatbonded and then hand-stitched into voluminous splashes. The file-work of each llayer is drawn to hang upwards, blooming aquatically with each movement.

The ‘Morphogenesis’ technique is carved by thousands of white screenprinting mesh layers, in collaboration with Philip Beesley. 3D twisted vortex models were created in Rhino software, numbered and sliced into 3mm distance, to then be cut on the KERN lasercutter with a triangulated grid of chevron-holes. Grasshopper scripts smoothened the processes of lofting, slicing and nesting. Each layer was embellished by hand with a grid of minuscule transparent chevrons, creating vibrant coral textures that expand and contract around the body. During the show, the models emerge from three 'immaterial' lightwave sculptures, designed by Paul Friedlander. Each sculpture is made from one thread only, that transforms frequency into shape. Illustrating a sea of structure, they encircle the models by weaving light around them, creating a metaphorical maze of sensory waves.

Matching the ebb and flow of arresting sensations from neuron to ocean, changeantsilks ripple buoyantly. Swaying serenely, they are at the liberty of change, regenerating amongst the immensity of the ocean, to the silent, yet eternal chattering of our senses.