The Imaginary Body/ 想象身体

Jinglan Ge

The start of this project is the concern for the stereotyped beauty standards of female body in China. I have developed my own practice method. Its foothold is the insights and critiques of the sexual objectification reality, and the direction of thinking it provides to the viewers is how to regard and feel your body from the inside subjective feels, to see it as a expressive entity of yourself, instead of evaluating it from the perspective of a internalized social view. Next, I have dialogues with my friends, in which I give them the idea of changing their body images freely and creatively. Then I use these conversations as my inspiration and create illustrations to reflect the possibility of defining our bodies from within.

Imagination and illustration as my main methodological guidance and visual communication, are the two most important cores of this project. For myself, they happen at the same time and merge into one: the imagination in my mind creates illustrations through my hands, and illustrations are the entities of imagination. Imagination takes me to break the limitation of reality, break the stereotype of “what human body should be like”, then naturally there is no “what aesthetic about the female body should be like”, which is my criticism and response to the existing aesthetic. Through talking with others, I build perceptions of their inner feelings and expectations, and I create illustrations of “imaginary body” on this basis. The illustrations mixes the inner thinking with outer body appearances to give a visual scheme of what if your body is only up to your own mind. Through them, we can picture a speculative world where everyone’s body is unique due to their personalities and ways of thinking are unique . It means we are free from social relations, and we become “an ultimate self-untied at last from all depency” (9.Haraway, D. 1985, p67), “a woman in space.”

1. “Elegant Bug”

In this drawing, the most prominent part is that I draw myself as an insect, with the arthropod body and multiple pairs of arms and thin and transparent wings. It comes from a strange fascination I have been having with insects. Although I fear bugs as much as most people do in reality, I can ignore the hostility between humans and insects for a while in the fantasy world. When I think about flying, the insect appears first in my mind rather than birds. I always believe that an insect is an elegant animal, small and delicate, with beautiful patterns on the body. Compared with cats or dogs with cute features domesticated by humans, their beauty is not flattering; they never need to please human beings. It gives them the qualities of independence and pride, which is in line with my expectations for myself.
Moreover, based on this insect body, I added some of the second preferred flying animal bird features, including gorgeous compound eyes and feathers. In the aspect of superpower, I add many interconnected brains to myself. Together with multiple pairs of arms, they symbolized the power of the intelligent world and the physical world respectively. This is a pursuit of absolute independence, which means that I do not need to rely on any other person to support and prove myself in the existence of both spirit and entities. I also added a childhood pet cat of mine to this drawing, an evocative element of gentle emotions and good memories. Ultimately, I gave myself the ability to change my weight number, and I write 0.00kg, which means a complete relief from weight anxiety.

2. “Contradictory Mixture”

In this piece of illustration, the body is a contradictory mixture of freedom and confinement, strength and fragility. She yearns for security and has a fear of the unknown, but she also hopes to overcome her fear and make herself stronger. Her heart is a cat in a box, which is her demand for a sense of security and stability. She has a huge fishtail, which allows her to swim freely in the water. That is what she (the person I had the conversation with) can’t and fear to do in reality. Her fingers become vines, which can extend far away, breaking through the limits of space and distance; At the same time, these vines also tightly tie her own body: she is imprisoned by this freedom and power. She has huge, angelic wings. They enable her to fly and fight. But when she feels lonely and cold, the wings also become the providers of warmth and security, enveloping her whole body. Her hair is thick, with a sunflower wreath on it, representing brightness, warmth and enthusiasm. Her face is a cat face, beautiful and mysterious. Snow mountain represents tranquility and strength, while cloud is freedom. The combination of these elements makes the imaginary body look like a goddess of nature. But don’t ignore, her arm is still holding a stuffed rabbit toy, which reveals her inner vulnerability.

The human personality is a complex mixture. It is universal and natural for contradictory characters, thoughts and love to appear in a single person. We all reconcile, and grow in the struggle with our expectations and disappointments. This is the charm of human nature, which is much more attractive than a so-called “perfect body”.

3. “A Whole New World”

This illustration focuses more on the questions of “what would the world be like if humans could change their bodies at will? What change will happen in human society? What will that kind of life experience be like”? This imaginary body shows intense curiosity. There is a circle of flowers on her head, and it is actully the life trip of one single flower. The flower is born in the morning, bloom in the noon, decay and wither in the evening. This is a curiosity for the inhuman short life experience, and also a philosophical thinking about the life process. Is it possible for us to experience the ephemeral life with human body? The lower part of her body has become the hoof of herbivores, which means the worship and homage to the Faun in Greek mythology.  It also symbolizes the possibility of establishing a new connection and mutual integration between human and nature. Her hands became cat’s paws. They were fluffy with pink pads, but they could also stick out sharp nails when attacking. It’s also a sign of returning to the wild, which can be both gentle and cruel. And, what if humans had tails? Would it share some of the functions of hands? And what would the social economy and cultural industry change with the existence of the tail? After the illustration was finished, I also discussed with my friend about whether human beings still need clothes in this imaginary world. Perhaps there, clothes no longer bear physical and moral functions, but merely a remnant of the old human society.

4. “The Meaning of Cute”

In this illustration, she has a fluffy squirrel body. Squirrel is a kind of cute little animal, but it is agile and alert, which makes its cuteness not stupid. She wants to have stronger mobility, such as the ability to move quickly and fly. So the little squirrel also has wings and it is wearing roller skates. She is attracted by the beauty of the world, and holds universal kindness to the world. These things she loves appear on her body in the form of patterns: flower, fruit, bird. But as mentioned above, this kind of kindness is not foolish, so she also has an super-intelligent brain, which can draw knowledge directly from books. Her temperament can be summarized into an abstract shape, which is like a mass of water, or a constantly changing bubble. This shape is mellow without any angles, which represents goodwill and inclusiveness.

5. “The Left & Right Half” 

This one comes from my abstract expression of the concept of “imaginary body”. In this image, I want to create a sharp contrast between the left and right parts of the body, highlighting the right side of the strangeness, and how this strangeness gives it great power.

I add animal body features to a human body. She has the wings of a butterfly, which enables her to fly. There is fine dust on the wings, which in my imagination has the function of confusing and conquering people. She has a breast in the shape of a triangular cone instead of a soft and seductive circle. Also, her pudendum, which looks like a flower made of spines, is beautiful and dangerous, full of aggression. Her right hand and feet are sharp claws, and there is a hard horn on her knee. These are the physical strength I gave her. The eye is a cat’s eye. In ancient Chinese legends, cat’s eyes can communicate with Yin and Yang, and they can discern human souls. Her skin is covered with totem like patterns, as if the tendons and vessels are flowing slowly, holy and mysterious. When drawing this half body,  it occurred to me that no matter in eastern or Western mythology, we all have a certain kind image of God, which is a combination of human body and animal body. It is a symbol of great power, and also shows that the spirit of nature is a mixture of justice and evil, wisdom and ignorance. Compared with the right half of the body, the left half of the ordinary human body appears pure and fragile. There are flowers on her hair, what I want to say through them is that in reality, human beings may love nature, but it is difficult for us to trace and rediscover our deep relationship with nature. We are imprisoned by social relations. So we love flowers, but we can only put it on our hair as a decoration, but we can’t really turn flowers into a part of our body.

This illustration is a concentrated expression of the concept of imaginary body. It is full of metaphors and it even looks evil in some extent that is what give her image power and inviolability. But anyway, like the first one, it comes from my own previous knowledge. I urgently need new nutrition to nurture more such “monsters”. So, in the next stage, I began to get new inspiration from other people’s thinking.


Jinglan Ge

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Graphic designer + Illustrator
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