Body Politic was a group exhibition of near-future and absurd wearable technology solutions to problems in society. Body Politic featured works from Ani Liu, Ayo Okunseinde, Azra Aksamija, Emmeline Franklin, Brittany Cohen, Lauren McCarthy, Manisha Mohan, Pedro Oliveira, Sophia Brueckner, Wiena Lin, Xuedi Chen, and was guest curated by Laura Zittrain.
What we wear transforms us. From hats and jackets to perfumes and dresses, we envelop ourselves intimately. The world knows us first through the regalia we choose to offer. And in turn, our habits and self-perceptions are conditioned by our garments.
Our artists have produced speculative fictions, ritualistic artifacts, and “technology solutions.” Together they encourage us to reclaim a sense of power that the world appears at times intent on denying us.
Still: we trust objects at our peril. Body Politic reminds us there are no shortcuts to disrupting the status quo or remedying feelings of loneliness. Our responsibility is to recognize that temptation, and build inclusive communities through civics rather than gadget-making alone.— Laura Zittrain For Body Politic, 2017
OPEN is pleased to premiere Body Politic, a group show featuring works by eleven artists from five countries including Ani Liu, Ayodamola Okunseinde, Azra Aksamija, Emmeline Franklin, Brittany Cohen, Lauren McCarthy, Manisha Mohan, Pedro Oliveira, Sophia Brueckner, Wiena Lin, and Xuedi Chen. Body Politic is guest curated by Laura Zittrain.
The artists in Body Politic deploy wearable objects to resist social power structures. Sculptures, dresses, devices, and a spacesuit depict alternate visions of a tech-enabled, inclusive future. These works respond to the experiences of individuals seeking a place in a post-hope America struggling with sexism, racism, and xenophobia.
Consisting of speculative objects designed for the body, this collection makes tangible the artists’ latent anxieties about safety and inclusion. Some works are intended as a cautionary tale, designed to provoke debate; the hat by McCarthy that pokes the wearer should they stop smiling and the shamanistic communication devices by Okunseinde and Lin. Others are working prototypes that contend with a future which has already arrived; the “secure” dress by Cohen and Franklin that only unfastens itself with the wearer’s fingerprint, or the letterman jackets that transform and connect into a massive wearable quilt by Aksamija, and the portable Faraday cage by Chen and Oliveira.
These objects fall somewhere between the everyday and the uncanny. They're familiar enough to accept at first glance: the lipstick by Liu, the amulet by Brueckner, the fragrance by Mohan. But something is unsettling: the lipstick attracts plants, the amulet harvests attention, and the fragrance terminates sex drive.
If the oppressed co-opted the production style of technology solutionism, these would be the wearables we’d get. Yet contemplated as serious products, they are absurd partial solutions. They show us that without civic discourse about the technology we want and need, gadget-making in isolation only further entrenches the status quo.
In an age of political authoritarianism, runaway tech, and expanding intersectional diversity, the works in Body Politic make clear the need to focus on social justice when creating new technologies.
Guest curator Laura Zittrain works as a designer and curator at the intersection of fashion and technology. Previously she was the Harvard University Wheatland Curatorial Fellow in the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. Zittrain holds a A.M. in the History of Science from Harvard University, B.S. from Georgetown University.
Special thanks to Rory Bledsoe, Laura Powell, Claire Rittenhouse, Rosie Weinberg, and Bob Wilson.