For people attending the upcoming exhibit "Bespoke Bodies: The Design & Craft of Prosthetics," it could be an eye-opening experience.
Considering the circumstances, people living without limbs — legs, feet, arms, hands — have more options these days, with much of the technology trending in the attractive and cool direction, which can only help someone feel better about their situation.
"That's what we're trying to show here," says Amanda Hawkins, curator of the exhibit, to be shown Feb. 15-May 9. "We're talking more than about functionality when it comes to prosthetic design, and we're listening to the people who use them and design them; many of the people who design them are amputees. It is a social and emotional need. We're seeing things that we didn't know were a possibility, and they're now celebrated."
From the sculpting of ocular prosthetics to crowdsourcing affordable 3D printed hands, the exhibit examines the past, present and future of design of artificial human parts. There'll be more than 35 case studies, spanning DIY inventions from kids to mind-controlled bionic limbs, telling the stories behind the patients, clinicians, designers and artists who have changed how we think about design and mobility.
There'll be visual stories, historical surveys, videos and interactive models.
It's a collaborative exhibit of Design Museum Portland and Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at Pacific Northwest College of Art, which hosts at the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design at 511 N.W. Broadway. It's free and open to the public.
"'Bespoke Bodies' is all about innovation and impact," says Sam Aquillano, executive director of Design Museum Foundation. "At the Design Museum, we're focused on how design impacts people's lives, and this awe-inspiring work is making a difference for so many — but so few people know about it."
Says Erica Rife, event programmer: "This is the premiere of the exhibition, which is just huge for us and for Portland and for the field. This field is getting so much more attention, we're so excited to launch it here in Portland."
Rife's mother worked with blind and visually impaired kids, so "this program speaks to my heart ... I believe this is an exhibition that will shape people's future. That show you went to, exhibition you went to as a kid that hit you in some way and truly shaped your life, I truly believe this exhibition will be that."
The Design Museum Foundation is working to gain support to take the exhibit to Boston and San Francisco and other cities.
Organizers of the exhibit are hearing all kinds of stories about people and prosthetics.
One man tells of going from a "Captain Hook" prosthetic arm to a bionic arm.
A group in San Francisco, KidMob, runs workshops to design limbs for "Superhero Cyborgs" — such as a hand made of Legos, or one that holds a Wii remote, a violin or a spoon. For one participant, Aidan Robinson, "it's something that made him feel awesome," Hawkins says. "It's taking control over limb loss; he wanted to feel like a superhero and feel cool."
An international organization, e-NABLE, helps people make hands with a 3D printer. It helps with growing children — bodies change, and prosthetics must also be changed.
Nike has entered the prosthetic market, teaming with Ossur on new running blades, "Flex-Run." Ossur designs them and Nike makes soles.
"Design plays an important role in the world of prosthetics," says Wilson Smith, senior designer at Nike and member of the Design Museum Portland's Content Advisory Committee. "Not only is it about creating something that performs and is functional, but it's also about designing something that speaks to the individual's passions and style."
Students at the University of Oregon's Adaptive Design Studio, led by adjunct professors, work with people who have lost limbs and adaptive athletes, focused on designing athletic equipment.
The Custom Style Section of the exhibit features the Alternative Limb Project, which works with clients on specialized limbs.
The exhibit was timed to coincide with the Olympics, specifically the Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The number of Paralympics athletes has increased by 40 percent in recent years. There'll be a Paralympics Opening Ceremonies viewing party on March 9.
"This field is getting much more attention," Rife says. "These are not prosthetics we used to see. The future is here, which is really exciting. We're excited to mix it all in."
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