Combining her fine-art background with her passion for photography, London-based, German artist Alma Haser has created Cosmic Surgery, a photographic series of portraits that distorts the faces of her subjects by covering them with origami shapes made out of the same photos. By depicting alien-looking facial manipulations amidst otherwise beautifully contrived settings, the defaced images prove to be quite unsettling, evoking a sense of both repulsion and wonder.
Haser’s process consists of three stages. She first photographs her subject, then prints multiple images of the sitter’s face that she folds together to create an intricate origami sculpture, that’s a different shape for each person, which she sticks on the original portrait and finally re-photographs the whole thing. The resulting images combine together: the flatness of the initial prints and the three-dimensionality of the paper objects, the organic contours of the human faces with the geometric shapes of the origami polyhedrons and the comforting familiarity of the classic portrait format with the alien facial distortions of the superimposed masks. By merging all these antithetical elements, Haser has managed to create disconcerting images that seem to reveal the multifaceted and often contradictory nature of our identities, whether real or invented.
But what is perhaps most poignant about Haser’s project is the discrepancy between the high-tech nature of the issues it brings up -the advances of genetic engineering that promise a future of genetic enhancements and the ever-shifting digital identities we construct through social media- and the low-tech process of paper folding she has chosen to work with. This incongruity is emblematic of our desire to improve or even exceed our inherited physical characteristics and our parallel fear that by doing so we are overstepping some unspoken boundary and corrupting our humanity.
Cosmic Surgery’s premise, the ability to swap faces at will, is further explored in a book of the same name -coined when Haser, who’s a dyslexic, misspoke cosmetic surgery- which imagines a future world where cosmetics and electronics have merged with biotechnology to enable us to literally be who we want to be. Designed by Emily Macaulay, it features Haser’s photographs, some of which aptly include pop-ups, as part of a brochure convincingly explaining, with the help of science writer Piers Bizon, how Cosmic Surgery works. Complete with elucidating diagrams, patient testimonials and warranty guarantees, the book presents a plausible future where you can license celebrity faces from “WonderTalent© Agency”, mind-switch your “WiFi-enabled Cosmic Surgery© enhancements” to share faces with friends and family or use “RandyTrance©” to change your face at random, a technology-driven dystopia uncannily envisioned through the simple act of paper folding.