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Gutted: A Sympathetic Primer in Six Parts. #3 Fascia
.. in which columnist james taylor-foster admires the flexible strength of fascia — a word which carries multiple meanings across contexts, but which in visceral terms refers to the tensile and unifying structure, aligning movement between parts of a whole.

In this six-part column, curator and cultural critic james taylor-foster explores spatial and design imaginaries through the lens of the body. Rather than looking at the systems we have constructed to understand the world, these texts explore our own visceral construction to reveal something of how we orient and experience life. This column pauses to consider the unusual relationships between the shapes of ourselves and the designed world.

There’s very little I truly understand about the human body. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; there’s a lot about which I know very little. During a somatic exercise I recently attended, someone brought up the term ‘fascia’. I was unable to connect the word to a thing. They explained that to touch your forrid is to touch your toes, all because of a single tissue-like structure that journeys through the extent of the body and connects the scalp to the foot. I’ve come to notice that those who work with their bodies tend to have a reverence for this taut and sensitive surface. Far less understood than the muscles or tendons we build and tear, the supple fascia is the unifying arc — linking a tangled collection of interdependent relationships that, in the end, allow us to move through the world.

Referential drawing by james taylor-foster (2024).

If the interstitium is our internal bubble wrap, quietly absorbing the bumps and bounces we meet day to day, the fascial system is our insulating envelope.1 Its narrative transcends the biological, however. On it, our interactions with the world are etched (“the body keeps the score”). Proactive and reactive, it delivers each strain, each catapult forward, and provides for every moment of pause. Like a stretched and primed canvas, it functions like a tight membrane protecting against a hostile, spikey world. Yet this tensioned sheet itself benefits — if the apparently boundless online supply of designed devices for bodily relief are to be believed — from being pricked, poked and knurled, just as fibres of flax or hemp are combed and coaxed into ropes of yarn. In the same way that each thread in a spool of fabric maintains its own tension and direction, contributing to a material’s overall strength and pliancy, the fascial system reminds us that we are not an assembly of parts but cohesive entities — twisted and cabled together by movement, interaction, and the strain of emotive experience.

The fascial system reminds us that we are not an assembly of parts but cohesive entities — twisted and cabled together by movement, interaction, and the strain of emotive experience.

We’re not meant to feel fascia, although some claim that you can. Its function is to slide and disappear, keeping the body integrated while enabling us to be fully three dimensional. But sometimes it empowers us in other ways. A recurring theme in the Hidden Brain series is the relationship between pain and power. Take, for instance, those rare cases in which an ordinary somebody exhibits supermassive strength, fighting off polar bears or lifting vehicles off from loved ones. It’s generally understood that our brains only permit a 60% exertion of our true physical force; even the most highly trained can only push to 80%.2 If we were to push to a hundred, our bodies would snap and crumble. The fascial matrix that keeps us whole would tear apart at the seams, disassembling us into our constituent parts. It’s impossibly strong and palpably fragile.

Fascia is the spring-loaded surface that rarely buckles or breaks, bending instead. It demonstrates that movement and strength are one and the same, continuously trying to align.

As we grow out of babyhood and move into the years that follow, its leather-like strength curves to the tensile strength of motion. There may be a lesson in this. Muscles may lift and force us out and into the world, and pieces of skeleton may keep us upright. Fascia is the spring-loaded surface that rarely buckles or breaks, bending instead. It demonstrates that movement and strength are one and the same, continuously trying to align. Far from a rigid unifying structure, it’s a surface that serves to let things move up and against it – and around each other. The fascia is a master-act in the virtue of flexibility, and the closest proof we have that that which is hard and fast, uncompromising and resolute will founder.

Bio
james taylor-foster is a writer, cultural critic, and curator of design and digital culture trained in architecture. They are the curator of contemporary architecture and design at ArkDes, and have developed a number of curatorial projects in Stockholm including Cruising Pavilion: Architecture, Gay Sex and Cruising Culture and Space Popular: Value in the Virtual, alongside public installations with Studio Ossidiana, Swedish Girls, and others. They curated WEIRD SENSATION FEELS GOOD – the first museum exhibition to explore the culture and creative field of ASMR, currently touring. Most recently, they worked with Joar Nango and collaborators to present Girjegumpi: The Sámi Architecture Library in the Nordic Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Their first collaborative collection of essays, softspot, was published in 2021 (InOtherWords).

Credits:
Cover image: Martin Simonic (2023)

Notes

1 The term itself is rooted in Latin and describes a band, a ribbon, or a sheath. In architectural terms, a fascia is a frieze beneath a roof edge. So-called fascia board is the thing that holds a roof gutter in place.
2 [online]

Published
14 Feb 2024
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