“Transhumanism is inevitable,” says Kaan Ulgener, the London-based artist designing 3D creatures that visualise the future of the technologised body. Transhumanism is defined as "the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology." by the Oxford Dictionary, and Ulgener evokes this transcendence between human biology and machine.
Ulgener’s work centres around the body. The bionic additions he creates enhance, and deform the human body or respond to its inherent limitations. “I like to change the default features of the objects or come up with useful versions of it,” Ulgener says. “Machinery has always been of interest to me and a field for huge research opportunity which can give depth to my work,” he adds. Ulgener’s work sees bodies adorned with anti-chin deformers, upgraded fingers and interplanetary antennas that double as headbands, expanding not only the capabilities of the human body but the definitions of beauty.

The incessant technological advancements and the consequent intimate relationship between technology and the body have often been a source of fear for many. Technophobia has often resulted in technology's union with the body being portrayed as a dystopian scenario in visual culture. Ulgener’s work, on the other hand, sees opportunities that technology can propose. “Technophobia grows with technophilia as if they were twins with different personalities”, Ulgener says. Exploring the inevitability of human-machine fusion, his work conjures up transhuman creatures that speculate, if not predict the future of humanity.
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You have been based in London since 2011. You graduated from London College of Communication Games Design course and then completed your MA in Advanced 3D Technologies and Multimedia Design at Brunel University. Take us a bit further down memory lane: how did you find your career path?
I have been always interested in creating creatures and characters. I had already studied fine arts before London and that led me to London College of Communications where I learned coding and creating game-ready objects. Coding games was fun, but I always enjoyed the design part more, so I applied for the masters course where I could learn different techniques. This helped me to find the software I am using in my everyday work.
With digital technologies developing incessantly, what was your experience studying at London College of Communication and Brunel University? Do you think it is worth completing a university course in the subject area?
Back when I applied to study in London, there were not many opportunities. I had other options at different locations in the world but since I already had a good relation to the UK from childhood, I decided to study game design in the UK. Back then when I applied to the course, the 3D industry wasn't what it is now, I am talking about 2010. There were surely possibilities to learn 3D but you just cannot compare it to 2020. Back then Even WhatsApp's call function wasn't out yet. However, I don't think a degree would be crucial in today’s conditions. Now it is so easy to learn anything.
You often question how your creations would exist in real life. Dealing with futuristic concepts, why is it important to ground your designs in reality?
I do, for that reason, I've started 3D printing. Printing will be the future. 3D printing will make it easier for companies to follow and support the lean manufacturing process. Lean manufacturing focuses heavily on reducing waste to enhance efficiency. One way to reduce waste is to stop overproducing parts and products. With this technology, overproduction will become a thing of the past.
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Your work centres heavily around the body: enhancing it, deforming it, highlighting it’s limitations or proposing bionic additions. “Anti chin-deformer” and “upgrade_finger_m” come to mind. What are the messages you would like to get across with your art? And how do you think 3D design can help us better understand the increasingly intimate relationship between technology and the body?
I like to change the default features of objects or come up with useful new versions of them. I have always liked cyborgs, robotics and body modification; metal parts, cables and connectors coming out of the body has a twisted look. Machinery has always been of interest to me and a field for huge research opportunity, which can give depth to my work.
Why do you think visual culture is so obsessed with fetishising the technological future as an object of the imagination?
Fetishisation of the technological future, I believe, shows how much technology and virtual reality has seeped into “reality” itself. The cultural, sociological and even economic pressures of social media, for example, force us to compare ourselves with other people and new concepts. We then see that virtual reality has effects on our harmonic reality. So, our technological future inspires a reflection on what “happiness” technology offers us today; and in my opinion, the 3D world is the only way we can take this reflection further.
How do you think the ongoing pandemic has impacted or accelerated the implementation of 3D creations in visual communication?
Surely, the pandemic has changed how most things work. But 3D technologies were already starting to conquer the fashion and beauty world. The pandemic just catalysed the transition.
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Digital creations are challenging the normative views of what is beautiful or aspirational. Is beauty of any consequence to you? And how can 3D art expand our ideas of beauty?
I think beauty is a dynamic notion which comes from deep within. Beauty is an expression of raw and authentic thoughts projected on to a piece. So it’s definitely not a coincidence. 3D Computer Generated Imagery is a medium that will never stop growing. It will become the most accurate form of visualising a concept or idea.
With technological advancements, there is also increasing technophobia. From what I gather, you seem to be a techno-optimist. Do you think portraying bionic additions through artworks like yours will help normalise the technologisation of the body?
There will always be people who won’t support the transition towards the new age. Technophobia grows with technophilia as if they were twins with different personalities. Does my work normalise it? I’d like to think it makes it more sophisticated. Transhumanism is inevitable, it can be scary, but accepting it and trying to understand why a bunch of people are trying to visualise the future would help technophobes.
Is your work your way of predicting the future?
I wouldn’t say predicting, it's more how I see the future or how I want it to look. It’s always changing and evolving, there can be contributions towards predicting the future. But they will mostly fail, because of ever-growing technological advancements.
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