OPEN is pleased to première 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 interstellar communication device for people of color 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 made out of “cultural fabric” 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 stylist 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 where she researched and developed the permanent exhibit for 1944’s Mark‑1, the world’s first programmable computer. While at Harvard, Zittrain contributed to various exhibits, including a retrospective on the Rorschach ink blots, chatbots and the history of artificial intelligence, and science pedagogy during the Cold War. Zittrain holds a A.M. in the History of Science from Harvard University, B.S. from Georgetown University, and a certificate in personal styling from The School of Style.