Artistic visions for prosthetic design II - Red Hand Experiment

This is the first part of what now evolved into my Red Hand Series.

I am not sure how much I would anyone allow to actually rate this idea. It seems to be obviously cheap and stupid as mannequins hands sell for just about 5-25 bucks.

So if I have not missed something there I could use and wreck about 2'700 of these hands in these three to five years it takes for a professionally painted so-called "cosmetic" prosthesis to wear down - and still be cheaper and still be - ... arguably ... - better looking?

I mean - don't act stupid, but a cosmetic prosthetic hand should make me look competent (while it obviously doesn't move its parts) and a mechanical prosthesis makes me move, act, manipulate in a competent fashion (while there are certain restrictions on how competent it looks), at least that'd be the expectation. Now: my hook looks proficient yet we like it for its industrial and tool like looks. My silicon gloves for the prosthetic hand try look realistic yet we love them for their affordable rubbery charm. A body powered prosthesis is light, fast and silent and appears to allow for a far more proficient function than a myoelectric or bionic prototype would - more than once did I get surprised positive reactions. And walking around with an uncovered arm stump at least conveys some degree of honesty.

But none of these, and none of the current bionic prototypes do seem to convey being competent - if anything, these artistic designs look competent. Now: in my experience, not looking competent is by far the more significant disability going along with missing a hand than being manually incompetent - and while one can go in depth about the background, about the ins and outs of being perceived as incompetent as disabled person, while one can try to counter-act this through active communciation, it remains a major factor. Studying the appearance of competency therefore seems to be a worthwhile thing to do.

Two thousand and seven hundred? Seeing as if artwork was one way to go in prosthetics I figured 'why not', I went into 'just do it' mode - particularly since no one of these art creationists ever seems to build a cool art project for me. They may be very inspirational - but they all hide in their ivory towers of pure design and forget that we are out here.

2'700!? OMG. On second thought, I must have missed something. Best to try out.

Since I have a functioning prosthetic socket and very functional terminal devices - lacking only some more cosmetic look - I started to play with this spare hand of a mannequin. It looks vivid, alive, clearly artificial at the same time. And I was first considering a good way to wear it. The photo shows a fast temporary mount using tape.

Testing natural look

using cheap shop window mannequin hand

We then adapted the hand to match the correct length, provisional metal rod and mounted it on the socket using foam. Here is the result:

Obviously I tried that one out.

The result was that all people that saw it unanimously liked the expressive pose but disliked its apparent rigidity. Having established that, I decided to move on with this art project of mine and thus got myself options with a less rigid construction - see other threads on this site.

Rigidity is something people also go for. Ever noticed the strictly geometrical patterns some people wear as tattoos? Did these ever strike you as rigid?

Since no one liked my mannequin's hand's obvious rigidity but seeing as if most prosthetic hands are rigid for now (while no one criticizes the Eiffel tower for being rigid, ever thought of that) - I decided to move this forward into my art project. How does this hand have to look like so people like it rather than stating the obvious? That was a first question.

Technical issues

I identified issues with the Otto Bock wrist that were in the way of creative tests of terminal devices. Our bolts were too small for their wrists and with the expected effort of precision copying Otto Bock's wiggling wrist specifications, we figured we save time by re-doing their job.

We subsequently solved that by building a new wrist. Every half ways serious artist may have to relay on solid infrastructure - watching circus acrobats will make you understand. So after that was done, here is what happened next: I applied red acrylic glossy paint.

Red acrylic reflective paint - Red Hand Experiment - Operation 'Rote Pfote'

Here we go, red acrylic paint, a thick layer of it, making it real glossy looking:

[update: during a recent modification and due to objectionable use of chemical compounds that hand died so I ordered a new one]

[we will slowly get to why it was a really good idea to start with the questions (1) what is really cheap and (2) what really works and (3) what has the potential to be really hip and (4) what is a solid playground]

Style guide

Obviously disability makes me look somewhat incompetent, incapacitated, the whole package - and I obviously want to restore some of that. When coming up with ideas such as this I am not carrying with myself a human model of a technical gadget park. I don't see competency coming from trying to command five squeaking motors. No. Sure, technical requirements must be met, let there be no doubt. But that is nothing but a requirement.

For style, I watch a good performance of Paso Doble and I breathe in the whole atmosphere and let the 'duende' sizzle until I boil. Then I think about what I want to do style wise. Then I realize that many items have become nice through profuse application of glossy red paint - the Centre Pompidou's Red Rhino, for example.

(C) Copyright Centre Pompidou / Xavier Veilhan

Feasibility study

What if I spray painted my cosmetic arm a full red?

Would it help people in that it'd be easy on the eye? Would it be too much? I just colored a photograph of my cosmetic arm to see whether a full red paint would be a good idea. There's another issue - the paint comes off rather rapidly. I'd need to cover it with a layer of transparent silicon to delay the damage.

Looks like I did it.

Links to products related to the Red Hand:

  • Teddybears etc by sigikid - signature products 'Rote Pfote'; they are not involved here but obviously they feature a similar attempt to use the color red on an artificial hand/foot (or paw) for better identification.
  • Roth Händle Cigarettes - signature product containing extremely tasty tobacco.

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: - Artistic visions for prosthetic design II - Red Hand Experiment; published 19/02/2009, 20:20; URL:

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1638798937, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{ - Artistic visions for prosthetic design II - Red Hand Experiment}}, month = {February}, year = {2009}, url = {} }