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ADS3: Refuse Trespassing Our Bodies – The Right to Breathe

Daniel Innes

Daniel joined the RCA community in 2019. He is currently studying in ADS 3 with Alon Schwabe and Daniel Fernández Pascual of Cooking Sections, having previously studied in ADS 0. His project, ‘Building Bodies’, explores the conceptualisation of ‘bodily fitness’ through queer methods, and proposes a series of contraptions which augment key tree bodies within the site of Hampstead Heath. His work has been shortlisted for a number of scholarships and awards, most recently the 2020 RIBA Wren Scholarship and the 2020 RIBA West London Student Award.

Prior to the RCA, he worked for a year at WilkinsonEyre, during which he worked on a number of infrastructure projects, and played a central role in the practice’s entry into the LFA’s 2019 Pride Float competition. He completed his undergraduate degree in Architecture at the University of Bath, where he was awarded a 1st class degree.

He is involved in a number of causes within the spatial disciplines. He is the founder of the RCA Neurodiverse Society, which provides a forum for Neurodiverse students at the RCA to share knowledge, resources, and experiences. His work in this area is supported by his role as an Equality, Diversity, & Inclusion (EDI) Rep at the College, a position which he has held since October 2020. Since 2019 he has also been a Champion for ArchitectureLGBT+, a not-for-profit grassroots organisation which supports LGBT+ members of the Architecture industry. In this role, he has supported a number of events and most recently was jointly-responsible for overhauling the group’s website.  

Daniel’s practice explores the cross-section of space, language, and the body, employing fictionalisation and queering as central methods. His Architectural interests lie primarily in small-scale, temporary, renovation and installation-based projects, especially those with a strong grassroots and community focus. He is currently working in collaboration with the Serpentine Gallery on an environmental campaign, Moss Matters, which advocates for bryophyte biodiversity in Camden. The campaign will be hosted as part of the Serpentine's 'Back to Earth' initiative, and will be released later this summer.

Writing plays an increasingly important role in his work: last year he was the winner of the inaugural Drawing Matter Writing Prize (long-form text). His entry, Drawing People, critiques the normative representation of people within CAD blocks. A commissioned sequel, 'Make me Hyper-Real: Image ethics and the architectural visualisation', extends this argument to ‘hyper-real’ people within Architectural visualisations. His most recent essay explored the ramifications of policy within affordable housing provision in London, focusing on Section 106 and the redevelopment of the Heygate Estate.

His Master's dissertation, ‘The Outdoors People’, employs creative fiction to set out an argument on spatial determinism, interpretation, and psychological and bodily thresholds. For this work, he was awarded a distinction, and given the opportunity to present his work to around 400 fellow RCA students. His writing and photography have been featured in a number of publications, and he is currently working on a short novel.

Whey protein - Metabolic pathways

What makes a fit body?

Through the lens of whey protein, Building Bodies uses queer methods to explore the construction of ‘fitness’ as an ideology, and how this is spatially deployed in order to make our bodies productive. We have been organised by whey.

This ideology applies not only to the physical spaces of our own human bodies, such as the size of certain muscles, the percentage of body fat, the distribution of body hair, and the tone of our skin, but also those of the geological, ecological, and architectural bodies with which we are entangled, and the bodies of thought and bodies of knowledge for which they are conduits.

Taking as its site Hampstead Heath’s internationally famous cruising areas, the project proposes a series of small-scale ‘contraptions’, all augmentations of notable ‘tree bodies’, in order to explore how our relationships with these different bodies play out when decoupled from an ideology of bodily productivity.

These light-weight installations create opportunities for multiple aspects of physical exertion, ranging from playing, to fitness, and to the erotic, as part of a strategy of a radical ecological and social preservation which seeks to support the many groups who hold a stake in this place. 

(1) Whey protein
(1) Whey protein
(2) 'Building a better life'
(2) 'Building a better life'

Whey protein flows into me, as I flow through whey protein. With my scoop, I shovel this precious beige feed from tub to shaker, and take a sip from its plastic body. As components extracted from the hyper-productive animal body of the cow are made part of my own, I feel my transformation begin. This liquid ritual is essentially a process of organisation, a logistical, metabolic reassembly of protein into new architectural form.

In my head I trace the different pathways through which whey flows into me, not only through the many arteries of toxic agricultures, mechanised factories and my own damaged muscles, but also the stream of likes and followers whose metrics quantify my success. We have been organised by whey.

This industrial process, then, is reinforced by a post-industrial consumption. Each day, scrolling across the Instagram feeds of Protein Megacompanies, the fit bodies of influencers sell me protein as much as their protein sells me their bodies. Buying their products becomes part of my productive fitness rhythm. A co-dependent, corporate corpo-real.

Medium:

Digital Images
(4) Fit spaces
(4) Fit spaces
(5) Fit tools
(5) Fit tools
(6) Fit bodies
(6) Fit bodies

As I head towards my gym, I feel the protein flow through the world around me. It is readily received by my body, which eagerly anticipates the damage I will do to it later in the gym. But when I arrive, I find that it’s closed.

(4) Gyms are a place of production. (5) In these ‘fit spaces’, weight machines and treadmills measure my progress in accordance with numerical transformation. Digital readouts and mechanical scales enable my biopolitical self-organisation, and allow me to waste away the weight on my waist. Access to these territories of exhaustion is controlled by not only physical, but also financial and social barriers.

(6) Watching over me as I would work out are the nominally ‘fit’ bodies who are presented as the blueprints to which I should mould myself. Their curated and carefully-doctored images construct an ideology, which classifies only certain shapes, proportions and skin tones as desirable. Its pattern of operation is highly stratified along patriarchal and white supremacist conceptualisations of fitness, defining which bodies are productive, and shaming those which it deems wastable. Their lionization is literally super-human.

I have been duped by this imaginary. As I’ve unwittingly learned to obsess over becoming like these fit bodies, I’ve also learned to desire after them. The gym is a space for this sexual potential. The physical space of locker-room toilets, and the abstract space of my own imagination become stages on which I play out my fantasies. There is no fitness without desire, and no desire without fitness. 

Charged by my un-used dose of whey, my need to exert becomes overwhelming. In search of other methods of fitness, I find myself getting on the tube towards the Heath. 

Medium:

Digital Images
(7) 'Are you beach body ready?'
(7) 'Are you beach body ready?'
(8) 'The world's most perfectly developed man'
(8) 'The world's most perfectly developed man'
(9) 'Posing obedience'
(9) 'Posing obedience'

As I enter the circulatory system that is the tube, I find myself increasingly haunted by this productive ideology. Its many images which surround me enter my imagination, as much a form of equipment as the iron I would have been pumping. Its logistical instruction is made under the apparent advocacy of self-improvement, but I’m not sure on whose terms the standard to which to improve has been set. I know it wasn’t mine.

As I climb the hill towards the Heath, I realise that in obediently organising my body, I have relinquished my agency. Whey Protein and its imaginary have taken over.  

I wonder, what happens if we decouple the body from extractivist conceptions of productivity? Exertion, without exhaustion? Perhaps in doing so, in queering our approach of fitness and desire, we might also make space for communality, care, and connection.

The problematics of our ‘fit’ world call for a new culture of BODYHOOD. Perhaps on the Heath, I can find an unproductive architecture. 

Medium:

Digital Images
(10) Tree bodies
(10) Tree bodies
(11) The Heath - Curated body
(11) The Heath - Curated body
(12) Mutual supplementation
(12) Mutual supplementation
(13) Into the woods
(13) Into the woods
(14) 'I am tree?'
(15) Knowledge cartography (Gnosography)
(15) Knowledge cartography (Gnosography)

The Heath is also a kind of body, one through which concepts of fitness and desire have flowed for centuries. (10) Its many trees, each unique in size, shape, and structure, are subject to a similar process of organisation. (11) What is framed as a wild forest, an escape from urban life, is a highly curated landscape, and the council’s protective designation of 800 particular trees as being ‘veteran’ suggests that the bodies of some trees are deemed fitter than others. The strategic blocking of paths with dead logs and branches choreographs the public’s movement, deflecting the damage of their footfall towards other, more expendable ones.

(12) Like my own body, many of these veteran trees receive a form of supplement. Compost tea, a liquid made by fermenting compost, sprays weakened trees with the nutrients to make them grow to be larger and stronger.

(13) These ‘tree bodies’ are used for multiple types of exertion, not only being climbing frames or hiding spots, but also stages for the public cruising scene for which the Heath is internationally famous. For centuries, the privacy provided by the bushes and trees has enabled sexual activities which might otherwise be punished by authorities. Today, a tacit body of knowledge shared between cruisers and other visitors divides the space according to location and time. These human rituals continually intersect with the Heath’s ecological bodies; the birds, animals, invertebrates and fungi who rely on these crucial habitats for their existence.

(14) These tree bodies, then, are not so different from my own, so it’s perhaps strange that we carve such a clear boundary, as we do between notions of ‘fit’ and ‘unfit’ bodies, between so-called ‘human’ and ‘natural’ agendas. Perhaps there ways in which cooperative, queered mechanisms can support multiple sides of these relationships.

(15) Amongst the sex litter which covers the paths, I find a strange kind of map. In front of my eyes dance different glyphs – they appear to show contraptions which augment these tree bodies. I wonder if I will find one.

On the back, a series of prompts make suggestions for how I might move through this space in unusual ways. Maybe I will come across some of these constructions. I pick one, and I begin to run. 

Medium:

Digital Images
Approach
Plan
Long elevation and clamp details
Alien handles
Handle details
Short elevation
Forest of bodies

My first prompt asks me how far away I can get from a road. I listen for the distant traffic and run deep into the woods. It is here that I find what is known unceremoniously to locals as the Fuck Tree. Years spent as a cruising site has left its trunk sagging towards the ground. It’s the kind place you stumble across. Because of its use, you’ll not find it mentioned in any Council report. Only back-end sex blogs give an indication of its territory.

This frame I’ve found is a strap-on for the tree. Suspended over its most sacred part, modified tree harnesses are used for different kinds of support. The different forms of exertion which take place here, whether it’s swinging in the day or slinging at night, constantly tug on the tree, and help it to regain some of its posture. This practice of pleasure also preserves. Preventing the tree from falling forestalls its destruction by management. The socks, condom wrappers and beer cans which are already scattered amongst the beechnuts bear witness to the history to this place as a significant space. This is somewhere where people have shared countless vulnerabilities. This frame helps further to support these bodily connections, deploying pleasure as protection.

As I swing, I grapple the alien handles to my side and in front, for a moment suspending me from the sucking force of gravity. The feeling of leather excites me, but also tempers the coolness of the steel clamps which wrap around this tree. My movements are not rigid. The bell-like nodule at the top accommodates my shifting from side to side as I manoeuvre my body into more complex positions. As I look around me, I see a forest of these structures. They straddle the different trees in this area, multiplying its kinetic power. 

Medium:

Digital Images
Support poles - approach
Kit of parts
Detail sequence and set-out
Plan - Dancing ritual
Plan - Dancing ritual

I continue running, following a prompt that says to find an interesting tree. I stumble through the dense canopy and arrive at a dead oak tree. It’s still just about standing; a crucial habitat for several rare invertebrate species.

A crowd has gathered around the tree – poles have been driven into the ground around it, and a dance-like ritual binds the tree with restraining fabric. As they move, the special shoes of these performers pierce the skin of the ground. This breaks up the tough, compacted soil, allowing for moisture and nutrients to better penetrate below.

Officially, the poles are only used to hold up the tree. But soon after the crowds depart these become a site for poledancing. The unusual profile and wrappings enable experimental new movements. 

Medium:

Digital Images
(16) Cushion expansion program
(16) Cushion expansion program
Section through southern segment
'Patchwork body' - Isometric sections
'Patchwork body' - Isometric sections
Unfolded seam plan
(17) Compost tea - defensive spray
(17) Compost tea - defensive spray

I follow a prompt which suggests that I go along the most eroded path I can find. As I travel towards the more populous parts of the Heath, and arrive at the Hollow Beech.

(16) As I near, my weight activates some kind of mechanism, as an inflatable cushion expands rapidly from the tree’s hollow core. It swiftly covers its surrounding radius to protect it from any further soil compaction.

This is a well-known body. Over the past 100 years or so it has been eaten out from the inside by tree fungi. This process of biological consumption has in turn enabled human inhabitation.  Tired from my previous exertions, I allow myself to be folded into the soft surface of this giant skin. Restrains sewn into the surface are clearly designed for more erotic forms of rest. This folded surface engulfs me in its seamed patchwork. Its programmed deployment brings a theatrical quality to the quietness of these woods. (17) As I get up to leave, a cloud of earthy air erupts around me. I realise that my own recuperation has triggered another: my weight transfer has led to the spraying of compost tea over the trunk and canopy. 

Medium:

Digital Images
(18) Knowledge cartography (Gnosography)
(18) Knowledge cartography (Gnosography)
(19) A new kind of equipment

(18) Winding my way back home, I look again at the glyphs on my map and see that there are dozens more contraptions which I did not find. There’s a pleasure in not knowing their exact number or location, to know that there is so much more to discover of this shared body; that, in this alternative kind of ‘fit space’, knowledge is my only cartography. Given room from the organising eye of fitness culture, for the first time in years I felt able to let my body move in its own ways: to begin to piece together my own form of bodyhood.

As the tube around me shudders and rattles, and the digital throng of ‘fit’ bodies attempts to unseat me, I remind myself that my body is my own, and does not need to be productive. Pleasure need be its only practice.

(19) At home, idly scanning past the nominally ‘fit’ bodies of our hyper-real world, I stare at the shaker that just this morning seemed so essential to my relationship with my body, filled with the whey which promised to regulate my weight. It’s not that I will stop drinking it, but now I might wait a little longer before I reach for its organising fluidity. In my discovery of the Heath I have found a far better kind of equipment. 

Medium:

Digital Images
Building Bodies - Visual Archive — Research book listing primary references and precedents for the project.