As part of NYCxDesign, the students of the MFA in Products of Design at the School of Visual Arts present Engender, a roving and interactive exhibition that explores the role of design in the construction of gender identities. The exhibition’s eight interventions deconstruct simple artifacts and gestures of our gendered world and invite visitors to play along in a performative game of gender mash up and reconstruction. Through a playful series of dynamic, participatory wearables and installations, Engender explores and celebrates the fluidity and spectrum of gendered behavior and design, and compels each of us to revisit how we design and construct our gendered selves. The work comes out of a 10-week class called Design Performance taught by Sinclair Smith, which explores design exhibition beyond the pedestal, focusing in on interaction, participation, and staging new behaviors.
Reshaper co-opts the visual language of the carnival vendor by presenting a visual cacophony of goods—but replaces cotton candy and balloons with three-dimensional abstractions and representations of body parts. Visitors are invited to try on the body parts and perform the gender roles implied by their adopted body parts. These artifacts and their consequences start a playful dialog about how our body shapes influences our gender performances.
Rebrander marks guests with the iconography of Engender’s branding. Syringe-like tools apply colorful inks in fragments of typical gender iconography. These tools have a medical quality that suggest and subvert oppressive histories of tattooing individuals who identify outside of binary gender norms. Guests can mark themselves in any way they choose and invent their own graphic identities.
Olfactor is a game of “boy or girl?” Four baby dolls in a sling have been pre-scented with popular deodorants for men and women. Guests try to guess the sex of the baby based on the industrially-gendered and marketed scents. Olfactor highlights how early parents begin to brand their babies with gender identity, and how this process cascades into a frenzy of gendered baby gear—ultimately coalescing into the arbitrary gender-based marketing of generic goods.
Translator re-introduces guests to the power of visual stimulation, and helps men and women alike reimagine themselves as the opposite sex. Through this imaginative transition implicating sex, gender and everything in between, participants are invited to reflect upon viewing their trans-portrait for the first time.
Renderer uses digital technology to transform guests' bodies at their request. While visualizing idealized bodies and faces, Renderer uncovers a deeply-rooted gender bias in body image, and encourages visitors to critically examine the source of their physical aspirations. This invention demonstrates that as we move deeper into our digital capacity, we will move closer to creating new worlds where our gendered reality is as flimsy, or as ubiquitous, as the click of a mouse.
Deconstructor is series of stickers and appliqués that abstract and accentuate our most physical manifestations of gender. By choosing what facial and body features they want to amplify or mask—from eyebrows and mustaches to lips and pasties—participants can quickly subvert the most obvious ways that people interpret and judge their gender.
Dispenser offers guests confections labeled with negative, gendered characteristics. By limiting their selection to negative traits, an ordinarily mundane choice becomes loaded with stereotypical implication and meaning. Through the provocation of hesitance, Dispenser highlights how “harmless” stereotypes might not be so harmless after all.
Finally, all visitors are given a sticker pack consisting of fragmented shapes taken from the astrological symbols for man and woman—Mars and Venus. Guests are encouraged to apply the stickers to their skin, their phones—really anything—to construct their own personal gender symbol, and to explore the alchemical design process of gender construction.
[Photos: Wan Jung Hung, Souvik Paul, Chelsea Stewart, Shiqi Li.]