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Contemporary Vanitas
Design Academy / Graduation Project 2011 / Master IM
The cult of youth and beauty has us firmly in its grip. Botox, face lifts, implants, dental whiteners: no procedure is too costly or invasive in our insatiable quest for eternal life and aesthetic perfection. This obsession goes further than our bodies. We also demand that the objects we surround ourselves with are every bit as polished and flawless as we are. Yet death and decay are a part of life. And so, Thomas Vailly argues, they should also be part of design. Carrying on in the tradition of Dutch Vanitas paintings, made as a reminder of man’s fragile condition and transient existence, Vailly created his Contemporary Vanitas. He used human hair as a raw material, an idea that many find repulsive. Vailly is rational about it. Mixed with glycerine and sodium sulphite, the hair melts into a type of bioplastic resembling leather. By crafting this controversial material into a modern still life including a cup, jug, mirror and lamp, Vailly invites us to reflect on the natural process of deterioration. Just as the body will decompose, so materials made from the body will also do so. His Vanitas acts as a modern mirror of our own mortality and imperfection, offering not only a daily glimpse of the distasteful truth behind our carefully constructed facades, but also realistic options for the creation of new materials.