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Design Academy’s Best II - Brigitte Coremans

Contraception has both liberated and estranged women from their own instincts and rhythms.  Coremans approach to product design is to reintroduce the natural in a way that allows women to reconnect to a sense of their fertility.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 28-10-2010

The public at this year’s graduation show is noticeably less enthralled than in the past.  Some projects attract small crowds who stay and ask questions, but in the main people file through quite quickly.

One project, however, is permanently surrounded by (mostly) women.  Some look stunned, others run a nervous finger along the products.  It is clear that they can all relate.

Brigitte Coremans’ graduation series works as a kind of trilogy.  First, a long string of colour-coded beads is connected to a device.  The device is in constant motion, but indiscernible to the eye of a woman consumed with life.

“Each bead represents an egg,” says Coremans whose attempt to visualize a woman’s reproductive life and associated losses left some onlookers in tears.  Every twenty-eight days one bead travels up the rope, over the precipice and falls down the other side.  As a teenager, a woman’s string of eggs is piled up at the start of the contraption, but as she nears the end of her reproductive life, most of the eggs have collapsed down to a pile at the other end.  

“At 40, 80% of a woman’s eggs are gone and of those remaining, 50% that fertilize will miscarry,” Coremans says.

On top of that, the final run of eggs are a different colour connoting their poorer quality.  Poor quality eggs are unlikely to ever fertilize.

“One thing I learnt is that when a women is on the pill she doesn’t ovulate, but that doesn’t mean she saves her eggs,” Coremans says.  “Scientists don’t know why, but the eggs diminish regardless.”

The next piece in the project is a wall-mounted temperature graph that reads and records a thermometer.  Every morning a woman can pop the thermometer into her mouth and when it rings, the result is sent to the graph via wireless technology.

“When the temperature goes up by half a degree it means an egg is being released,” says Coremans.  “When it starts to drop, it means menstruation.”

Using her own body to experiment on, Coremans was surprised by how many internal secrets can be spotted and interpreted by visualizing her rhythm externally.  “When I was very stressed, I could see from my temperature charts that my egg wasn’t released on time,” she says.  “That was my body saying it could not conceive a child because there was too much tension.”

The final part of the trilogy is a harsh but lyrical reminder of how things can go wrong – a series of tiny coffins in six different sizes corresponding to miscarriages that occur at different stages of pregnancy.

“The largest coffin is for a foetus born at 23 weeks,” Coremans says.  “It’s a very controversial thing.  Before 24 weeks, a stillbirth is often treated as anatomical garbage, but after 24 weeks it is given an official burial covered by insurance.  I have heard horrible stories from women who are advised to keep a baby whose heart has stopped beating inside for an extra week so that insurance will pay for a burial.”

The coffins are made from soft biodegradable material, which contains ground fertilizer and chalk. They have rounded edges so they can be comfortably clutched.  “They are completely biodegradable and disintegrate in three days in the humid ground,” Coremans says.  “It nourishes the surrounding grass which will end up a bit greener – a subtle way for a parent to recognize where the point is.”

Social design has once again become the in thing, but the intrinsically personal nature of this work complicates things for Coremans.  “If I refer to a foetus in an interview, I get emails saying I should say child,” she says.  “And it is true that some hospitals are a little bit more sensitive than others in how they handle miscarriages.  I don’t want to make any big claims about policy, but I have spoken to a lot of women who say their foetus ends up in the garbage bin.”

The idea for this project came from an article Coremans read about the pill.  “We were all on it,” she says.  “I started wondering what it was really doing to us.  It changes our libidos, makes us flatter and it can’t be filtered.  Science shows it is changing the hormone levels in our drinking water.”

Coremans conclusion is that science has played havoc on a woman’s relationship with her own body.  “We have become oblivious to temperature changes, discharge and our own moods,” she says.  “We can’t even relate how we feel back to what is actually happening inside.  I hope that my work can remind women of how they can be more in control of themselves and make informed contraceptive decisions based on their own bodies.  It is hard to discuss though because the moment you suggest such a thing people cringe and think you sound too Christian.  I find that very sad.”

Graduation Show 201
0 runs to the 31st October.

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