IT WAS A CLASSIC TRICK: HYPNOTIZE A VOLUNTEER AND turn her into a “floating lady,” balanced like a board between two chair backs, held in place by only her heels and neck. Although Marcos Lutyens is a serious conceptual artist with the résumé to prove it — his work has been featured in the Venice Biennale as well as dozens of galleries around the world — he may have initially appeared to be the next hip hypnotist at his recent performance during the opening of his exhibition “Skinn” at Materials & Applications gallery. He performs this physical demonstration, with a good measure of vaudevillian showmanship, to illustrate how the subconscious can override the practical mind — after all, most of us can't envision being turned into a human balancing bar, and in only five minutes to boot. But hypnosis, says Lutyens, who became a certified hypnotherapist in 1998, can be used “to trace a grammar of emergent design — a design strategy that is not informed by scholarly indoctrination, or media trends, but closely conforms to the innermost workings of the mind.”

“Skinn” (the n denotes any number), which Lutyens calls “an investigation into consciousness,” showcases two connected projects that he has spent the last year developing: CorteX, which relates to clothing design, and Second Skin, which involves architecture. Lutyens hypnotizes designers and architects, who then create designs. L.A. designer Antonio Aguilar underwent a one-hour session with Lutyens, and came up with a dress that is featured in CorteX.

“Going into a deep trance state, I saw intensity of light all around me, and I kind of freaked,” says Aguilar, who found the induction experience unsettling. “I had this fear my body was going to die. In my head I had an image, and I sketched what I saw. When I opened my eyes and saw the sketch, there was so much detail, but it had only taken three minutes to draw.” Immediately after the trance session, he re-drew and refined the design — a white wedding garment that would turn a glowing green when touched. He and Lutyens decided on the materials and went to work.

The result is an intensely structural dress which Aguilar describes as half-finished: the stiff, full skirt was made of clear UV-sensitive PVC panels stretched in frames of boning made from wood mullions and furniture nails. Smaller textured pieces of the PVC were overlaid at the ends of the panels, which creates a ripple effect. When UV lighting is turned on the skirt, it becomes a viewing tank: Inside is white flowing organza, compressed foam, wiring and LEDs, which were used to created the green glowing effect. A draped muslin bodice and sleeve elegantly soften the upper body, in contrast to the hardware of the lower half.

His previous CorteX projects in Spain were equally fantastical: a luminous piece composed of translucent expanding spheres centered around the chest and abdomen that stretched off the body like alien sinews; a conceptual garment to accommodate male pregnancy which had a baby-carriage pouch for postnatal care.

The other part of the exhibit, the architectural installation Second Skin, is situated between the gallery and a two-story apartment building next door. Large enough for a person or two to stand inside, the flexible conch-shaped structure is colored with Heather Poon's morphing 3-D patterns. For this project, Lutyens and collaborator Tania Lopez, who have worked with more than 120 architects, collaborated with a London-based architect. This is Lutyens and Lopez's first attempt at physically realizing a design that previously had been made as 3-D models.

“The physical piece is an indication of the direction in which this could go,” says Lutyens, who also works as a production designer on films, plays and operas. “The use of clear polycarbonate and a translucent net Lycra were choices that reflected a wish to get as close to the replication of the mental process as possible, such as mutability and reconfiguration of thoughts and imagination. The pieces may become more solid, and use more permanent resources, with the ultimate goal of supplanting or subverting current building practices to reflect inner desires.”

Hypnotic induction has been used in healing, psychotherapy and even by psychic friends. Notably, it was experimented with and dismissed by Sigmund Freud, but brought back again most recently to help smokers quit without side effects. Hypnosis reached show-bizzy heights in the 1960s when Pat Collins, whom Lenny Bruce gave the moniker “the Hip Hypnotist,” appeared in an episode of the I Love Lucy show. Visual artist Matt Mullican, with whom Lutyens did a performance at LACE, has been making drawings and installations inspired by hypnosis sessions for over 30 years: “The hypnosis work isolates the experience of a context, it separates out the experience of feeling something from the context of the feeling, and creates an emotional architecture.”

For Lutyens, who was born in London, spent his formative years between England and Spain, and moved to L.A. eight years ago, the use of hypnosis in his art has been a cosmic re-interpretation of basic existence: “I wanted to make myself a home, to implant the idea of a home in a background of general exile and displacement — which is generally what L.A. is.”

Lutyens has a larger agenda with “Skinn” than just making design curiosities. Earlier this year, he worked with 10 computer programmers at the Universidad Tecnológico de Monterrey to develop a genetic algorithm program which uses drawings from hypnotized architects that he hopes will help establish a model of the collective unconscious. “We're not looking for a single result, but for traits that correspond, looking for patterns of form, shape and texture to inform a new design strategy.”

Materials & Applications, 1619 Silver Lake Blvd.; (323) 913-0915, www.lutyens.net, www.emanate.org. Exhibit runs through October 20.

LA Weekly