In the lower comer of E.V. Days recent Suite of drawings Anotomy of Hugh Hefner's Private Jet (1998), the artist places herself centrally within the gridded simulation of an architectural blueprint—not as designer, hut as fantasizer. Day, a New York-based artist who works in installation and drawing, documents fantasies of transformation and transmogrification. Her interest is in the dormant cultural meanings embedded in design, and she uses materials from fashion and industry to trace the arrested gestures of desire, power, and violence. In Wetsuits (1995), Day takes apart neoprene surf gear at the seams and reconstructs it as prone bestial skeletons suspended in a museological display. In her Exploded Couture (1999) installations, Day explores evening gowns and obsessively freezes the action through an elaborate systems of wires and screws. In the Hefner series, Day shares a mutual fantasy with the Playboy executive, and takes off from his already hyperbolic display of masculinity into the void. When Hugh Hefner launched Playboy Enterprises in the early 50’s, he imagined that his work would be an extrapolation of the provocative results of the Kinsey Reports on male and female sexuality (published respectively in 1948 and 1953). These sexological surveys were to forever derange the social perception of propriety and stringent moral standards in the popular imaginary. Hefner declared that his magazine was a blow to the Puritan ethics of repression and silence concerning sexuality. He also doctored up a typical reader—the heterosexual American man with refined tastes, deep pockets, and a keen interest in the female form (or the female as form). Day culls her source material from this moment in the United States when mass-produced variations on stream-lined Bauhaus designs were becoming the fetishes of the moment for the "executive" playboy. From Playboy magazine's inception in 1953, design culture was a constant presence. The upscale furniture designs of Knoll, Noguchi, and Herman Miller were featured as part of the prototypical Playboy penthouse apartment. Playboys lived the lives of high tying swingers, well-seasoned with sets of gemmed cufflinks, portable mini-bars, and the most advanced hi-fi systems available. Hefner wanted to stylize and air-brush the standard contents of stag magazines and to be persuasively at the cutting edge of both the sexual and design revolutions. Opposite this, Day's work is interested in the sex of objects and the gendering of design, as in the case of the Hefner jet where the display of masculine power goes haywire. In 1969, Hugh Hefner launched Big Bunny, a DC-9 jet created by Chicago design team Dan Czubak and Gus W. Kostopulos. As an unauthorized Playboy biography describes it:
Hefner's personal quarters were at the rear and included a six-by-eight-foot elliptical bed upholstered in black Himalayan goat skin, covered with white silk bed sheets and a spread of Tasmanian opossum pelts. A belt was strapped across the bed during take-off and landing so that Hef and his companion of the moment need not be unnecessarily roused. Alongside the bed was a control panel that enabled Hefner to talk to the crew, darken the windows to watch a movie, listen to the radio, or play his favorite audio tapes. Leading off the bedroom was a sunken roman bath and shower and a study with a desk, telephone, tape recorder, and lightbox to examine color transparencies. Hefner's ultimate traveling libidinal zone was the perfect example of industrial design's quest to improve efficiency and industry. The jet's spaces, which generally lack distinct segmentation, recall the magazine's designs (published in 1956) for the perfect Playboy penthouse, an interior design made up of zones, not walled rooms, each targeted for "active" and "quiet" activities. Day's drawings play with this ambiguity between inner and outer worlds, and narrativize those domains as networks of power and desire with an imbedded potential for destruction.
Drawn to the original aircraft designs because of their strong resemblance to scientific drawings of enzymes or cross-sections of reproductive systems, Day set out to illustrate "the production of pleasure on a biological level." She takes the metaphor to the extreme by further mutating the micro-organism that proxies for Hefner's flying love pad. In Hefner's own freeform experience of social engineering, virility is enhanced through advances in technology and the medical sciences. (Witness his recent endorsements of Viagra, a pill to enhance the sex drive). Across Day's series of drawings or biological sketches the body of the figurehead expands into macro-colony, the ultimate utopian space.
Day's protean images conflate the expanding body of Hefner with his personal aircraft, and in doing so make light of the infinite optimism of technotopian discourse. Grafted onto the internal organs of Hefner are the luxury objects he consumes (his elliptical bed, bar, T.V. and tape console, etc.). Technological utopianism imagines the infinite possibility of the body aided and enhanced by futurian gadgetry. One of Hefner's biographers reveals that his jet was designed so that he was able to stay in touch with the global corporate world even while attending to his bodily functions. The sequential build-up in Three Mile High Club Stages I and II illustrates the activation of a sexual economy out of control. The titles, laden with multiple cultural associations, conflate the "Mile High club", a private and mythical space where sexual escapades take place in the friendly skies, with the disastrous zone Three Mile Island, the site of a nuclear accident in the U.S. Day frequently triggers dangerous ambiguities in her work, as in Cross-Section of Head On Collision, which resembles strangely both the atomic flash of the initial explosion of an H Bomb and the image collapse of a television being turned off.
In a recent Italian design magazine an article paid tribute to the award-winning plans for a private aircraft interior. Chief among the interests of civil aircraft designers is creating the illusion of constancy. removing any traces of the labor and gross mechanics of flight. In other words, a space is sought where movement and production do not seem overburdened by the facture of technology, but rather a space where "everything seems possible." Day's work plays with this techno-utopian fantasy of limitlessness, and takes the notion to its ultimate climax.