A gentle cyborg – trans humanist art of Frederik Heyman

Frederik Heyman for Lady Gaga on the cover of Paper Magazine, March 2020

The works of Frederik Heyman’s has an immediately recognizable, unsettling mood to them. While the Belgian artist has worked with an impressive range of clients, from Nike and Mercedes Benz to Mugler, Burberry and Gaga, I came across his work for Arca’s Nonbinary. Hayman works across many digital media, including video, 3-D animation and more general art direction – for Arca’s Nonbinary video, his talents as a digital artist came together. While each of the projects for his past clients had an individual feeling to it, there is a strong sense of constant re-imagining of an existing, yet imaginary, world. One that is characterized by trans-human, hybrid creatures like the ones he reimagined Arca as in Nonbinary. In his vision, Arca is supported by a set of mechanical arms, standing in a gigantic shell, mimicking that from Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (c. 1485).

Frederik Heyman for Arca’s Nonbinary, 2020

The contrast between a re-make of classical, canonical work and the aggressiveness of the machinery, which keeps the fragile, traditional allusion to the greatness of high Renaissance, is a reflection of Heyman’s talent of playing with the concept of the trans-human in ways that exceed associations with the body. In an interview with Tank Magazine, Heyman described his works as reflecting ‘the desire to overcome humanity’. He does not treat transhumanism as a specific vision of the future but rather as a way to explore the present conditions to which our bodies (and minds) are subject to, in relation to the constant technological change. As seen in the example of Arca’s Nonbinary, his approach to trans-humanism and well-thought-through and challenging in its conceptual nuances. It is precisely this complexity of approach which is the essence of his, often difficult, or even painful, to look at, art.

Frederik Heyman for Gentle Monster, 2019

His inspirations are a mixture of references to art history and cinema, ranging from sci-fi to horror films. The trans-humanistic approach on the one hand continues to explore the potential fusions of the body and the machine but it equally embraces the ways in which the functioning of the human body can be extended, perfected and enabled, not necessarily through making the mechanical mechanism visible. Heyman’s characters, while often based on 3-D scans of real models are oftentimes devoid of any gender characteristics or not even entirely possessing human characteristics. As a result, the influence of technology is a far more complex narrative strategy and far from a purely visual issue. It is a way of exploring what it means or will mean, to be human.

Frederik Heyman for Gentle Monster, 2019

The motives of power play, not necessarily limited to BDSM associations, are one of the ways in which the characteristics of the human condition are tackled. While Heyman’s works often have a type of playful or sexual tension to them, he also investigates the instances of extreme vulnerability, like being on an operations table, or the human need for connecting with each other, which all in all, leads to artworks which are challenging and philosophically mature.

Frederik Heyman for Nike

The use of 3-D scanning technologies naturally offers itself as a suitable transition between the physical reality and the imaginary, allowing to incorporate the human element into the latter in the most seamless way possible. The role of technology is understood to be at the border of the tangible and tangible aspects of the human identity – for instance acting as a way of preserving memories or one’s identity, as the artist describes it.

Frederik Heyman for Y/project, 2019

In Heyman’s impressive portfolio there is a strong representation of fashion brands and magazines – while experimental and futuristic designs of the likes of Y/Project or Mugler naturally seem like a perfect match, other collaborators, like Burberry, traditionally seen as a heritage brand, might seem like a less expected fit, even though over the last couple years Burberry is actively exploring ways of rebranding and updating their brand identity, for instance through collaborations with digital artists like Heyman or Wonderkatzi. While a fashion editorial or campaign are in their essence surreal worlds, the true potential of the alternative reality is rarely explored to its fullest in more traditional media like fashion design or photography.

Frederik Heyman for Y/project, 2019

In an interview with Glamcult, Heyman emphasised that for him, the digital sphere is a space that should be explored as an alternate reality and not used only as a marketing strategy. His works made in collaboration with fashion brands or magazines are therefore an extension of that idea, and the client’s brand vision has to be one that is innovative and truly individual for the collaboration to be effective.

1/13 digital installations I created for DUST, Frederik Heyman, 2018

His oeuvre seen as a whole is, as he calls it, ‘a bigger story’, and one which is not traditionally beautiful or easy to digest. For that reason, the elements of fashion he includes have to be well-integrated and while they will play a vital role in the construction of Heyman’s universe, they are unlikely to be the very centre of attention – only brands with a unique design and identity can consider collaborations with artists like Frederik Heyman. The uniqueness of his style lies in the ease with which he layers different, hyper-realistic and hyper sci-fi details into a complex, multi-layered narrative.

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