Back to the Breast with Carina Hardy

If you were around the Goldsmiths campus one particular sunny Friday this year in May, you couldn’t have failed to notice a pair of giant, inflatable breasts adorning our College green. Interested visitors could even crawl inside through an underwire, and see the sun through giant a nipple ceiling! The eye-catching installation is the work of Carina Hardy, a student of Barnard College (New York) who spent one year in the Design department at Goldsmiths. The giant boobs have travelled far before they arrived to Goldsmiths, since they were built in Bali and previously exhibited at Wonderfruit festival in Thailand. But why inflatable breasts, and what does it all mean? Carina explains:

How the breasts were made

This project posed some extreme challenges because I was committed to make them entirely out of sustainable materials. The ultimate goal was to compost them at the end of their life. After a series of material tests and prototypes we built the membrane structure out of organic cotton and coated the fabric in natural latex. I built them in Bali, where I was raised, with the help of a master tailor and a team. The natural liquid latex is hand-painted onto a total of 64 panels, and we pigmented the canvas because I didn’t want the default to be white breasts – watching the pigment change over time has been really interesting as well. It was a very intense material to figure out because it’s so sticky. The latex had to be brushed with baby powder so that it wouldn’t stick to itself.

The company that turned 3D scans of a live model’s breasts into patterns initially airbrushed Carina’s concept by making the breasts perfectly round and digitally removing the nipples:

I think they just did it because it was more convenient, and being engineers they want everything to be perfect– and it was easier to build. I had to fight for wanting something that seemed more natural, fight for something that was imperfect, while the male conception of breasts were perfectly round and symmetrical.

Making a giant boob installation can be quite an adventure:

When we put them up in Thailand, an hour before the festival opened, a big gust of wind came through and lifted one breast off the ground and it flew across the road, down the valley and landed upside down in a tapioca field. It was quite a sight. It was like a flying breast pancake! After that happened, I went back to Bali over the Easter holidays in order to build a bra around the breasts, to keep them in place.

Carina has been focusing on the theme of breasts in her work over the past year:

I’ve made a series of nipple brooches that I presented inside the giant inflatables at Goldsmiths. I call them Elppin. It is a line of subversive jewellery made form hammered brass and can be fastened to your shirt or bra using magnets. The use of magnets as opposed to traditional brooch pin findings emphasizes the way in which breasts are magnets of attention.

Another part of my breast research was doing a series of live breast casting with alginate and plaster. It was really fun to learn, and the material is great. I had a girl with a tattoo of an eye on the side of her breast and it came through on the cast, which was gorgeous, and another who had a breast reduction surgery when she was sixteen. You could see the scar marks of the surgery transfer through to the cast. The amazing thing about this medium is that as the artist  I don’t have any power of changing or shaping what’s there. It is simply a documentation and a record of what you have at one time in your life. When you have kids, when you’re older, or if you’re a breast cancer survivor, your breasts are going through states of change. I think it’s really beautiful to have the plaster cast as a physicalized moment frozen in time.

Part of my research project included a series of bespoke bras. I interviewed women, and based on their interviews I built them their own superpower bras. For example, one woman loved to go braless but her nipples are pronounced and this attracts unwanted attention in her daily life. I made her a bra with the evil eye insignia that both protects and deflects energy. It’s like the steel toed boot, but for your tits. This also inspired the Elppin design.

Why breasts?

The hope is for women to engage, feel comfortable and open up a dialogue around breasts and the culture associated with breasts. This project is for women, but it also aims to include men in the breast dialogue. My focus is on women and their relationship with their own bodies, the environment, and the physical spaces in which they interact every day.

What’s next for the giant boobies?

I am working on putting the breasts up at Columbia University in New York, right between two very phallic fountains on Low Steps with the iconic Palladian library in the background. Then next summer I’m dreaming of taking the inflatable on a road trip across America. Putting together a crew of 8-12 women with a camper van or two and arranging expo stops in major cities. I want to connect with politicians, breast cancer patients and survivors, midwives, teenagers, and sex workers to expand consciousness and general awareness of breast issues. Ultimately the inflatable breasts will be composted.  They’re not going to last forever, and they weren’t designed to. They were designed to have a circular life where they go back to the land.

Why Goldsmiths?

I was really drawn to Goldsmiths because of how open the programme is, and how it allows you to have access to all the different workshops, and all the various forms of creative thinking. I’ve loved being a part of this community and being exposed to such a wonderful diversity of design practice which has really inspired my own interdisciplinary work.

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