NOBA Nordic Baltic contemporary art platform

Photo series: The Body as a Work of Art (A Story of Development Through the Decades) / , 2022

By René Kari
42 x 24 cm

A total of 24 photos in the series. All with dimensions – with frame 47cm x 29cm, without frame 42cm x 24cm.
Pigment print
Photos taken between 1952-2022.


Artist about the work:

One sleepless night in 1974 I decided that I was going to become an artist. I made a bet on it with a friend who thought my plan of an artistic career too ambitious. – I gave up my university studies which

were getting in the way and a year later my job as well, because I realised that only – freelance status could offer me the right conditions to become an artist. Within six months my paintings were hanging in an art exhibition. It took three years to win the bet. I had achieved something hardly possible in those days – even without higher education in art, gallery doors had opened to me.

In the same year of 1974, at the age of 24, I made another, no less ambitious decision, which I also tied to a bet. I decided to shape my body as a classical sculpture, aiming to achieve peak form by the age of 57, in 33 years. It meant subjecting myself to the guiding principle ‘look better every year’. I did not aspire to athletic achievement, my objective was aesthetic image. And so my role model was not the bulky harmony of Hercules, but Achilles as I imagined him: for me, perfect beauty manifests in slender muscles, in the harmony of regular body dimensions. I was not a bodybuilder who ‘engineers’ his

body, but an artist who designs his body for the goal of shaping it into a work of art according to classical beauty ideals. My goal was BODY AS ARTIFACT! So it is not sport that I engage in, I am realising an ART PROJECT.

Precisely 30 years later, at my solo exhibition “Miami Beach” (Viviann Napp Gallery, Tallinn, 5-8 August 2004), next to my paintings I also displayed photos of my body as a sculpture in its final stage, incidentally declaring myself a sculptor whose work is his own body carved from his own muscles. Furthermore, the exhibition proclaimed the thirty-year-long artistic endeavour to ‘sculpt my body into a work of art according to classical beauty ideals’ and presented it as the debut of this art project. It is possibly one of the longest-running art projects in the world, an art event that lasts almost a whole life.

In principle, the realisation of the art project BODY AS ARTIFACT (a lifelong youthfully aesthetic appearance, an ‘ageless’ body through the ages) consists of uninterrupted preparations for yearly photo shoots. As soon as I get the anticipated photo at the end of summer, I set out on another cycle, starting the preparation for the next year’s camera click. And so on from year to year, in the name of ever-improving results. This is how it has been – since 2004 when I exhibited photos of my body for the first time at my exhibition “Miami Beach”. That is when I started the annual photographic recording of my body development, in order to confirm that the guiding principle – ‘to look better every year’ – is a continuous process, that the completion/finishing of the ‘sculpture’ goes on. As a result, the consistent development of the body aesthetics can be followed from 2004 until the present day. And so it goes on, who knows for how long, irrespective of aging. Today, at the age of 72, I can confirm that thanks to the obligation I undertook 48 years ago and the decades-long dedication, my body is now in better shape than ever before! My goal was, is and will remain the realisation of the creative process ‘to look better every year’, the continuous modeling of my body, so that this ‘lifelong youthfully aesthetic appearance’ may last as long as possible. As such, this process can be viewed as an anthropological research project: for how long is it possible ‘to look better every year’? For how long after 70 can it continue that you look better than when you were 30, 40, or 50 years younger? So the process that started in 1974 is a decades-long art event in which the exhibition “Miami Beach” (2004) and my 70th anniversary exhibition “RENE KARI 7×10” (2020), along with the present display as a fresh interim report, constitute recordings of the body aesthetic states in this continuous creative process.

I relate to my body design similarly to how I relate to my – painting of pictures. For me, both processes – painting and body shaping – manifest the desire for perfection. Both – are creative processes, artistic

work. Although destiny gave me a male body to shape, I see the perfection of beauty revealing itself in female body forms and those graceful curves are what I try to depict in my paintings.

Aesthetic appearance. What is it and what is it good for?

As I define it, the body as artifact, a truly remarkable outcome emerges out of the combination of a graceful body, flawless flesh and the right skin tone. This trinity is the basis for the impression that

determines the overall aesthetic appearance. This combination creates the impression, which is the essential feature of the youthfully aesthetic appearance which is simultaneously a prerequisite for prolonging youth. The result is a lifelong youthfully aesthetic appearance, an ‘ageless’ body through the ages. BODY AS ARTIFACT.

Rene Kari