Ralph Borland. Suited for Subversion (Prototype). 2002

Ralph Borland

Suited for Subversion (Prototype)


Not on view
Nylon-reinforced PVC, padding, speaker, and pulse reader
47 1/4 x 31 1/2 x 23 5/8" (120 x 80 x 60 cm)
Fund for the Twenty-First Century
Object number
© 2015 Ralph Borland
Architecture and Design
This work is not on view.
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This civil-disobedience suit, to be worn by street protesters for protection against police batons, draws attention to the risks demonstrators face in order to defend their convictions. A wireless video camera mounted over the head acts as a witness, recording police action. A speaker in the center of the chest amplifies and projects the wearer’s heartbeat. In a group action, when many people are wearing these suits, the increasing heartbeats

become audible as tension and excitement mount, like a natural soundtrack arousing the crowd. At the same time, the heartbeat exposes the vulnerability of the individual and the fragility of the human body exploited as a shield—almost as a weapon—against police munitions.

Gallery label from SAFE: Design Takes on Risk, October 16, 2005–January 2, 2006

Additional text

Suited for Subversion is a civil disobedience suit designed to be worn by street protesters to protect them from police batons. More than just a shield, the suit is a conceptual prototype that draws attention to the risks that protesters face while defending their convictions. Borland's design draws on the tactics of White Overalls, an anticapitalist group that originated in Italy. Its members dress entirely in white overalls padded with bubble wrap and polystyrene. Their protective wear is a safeguard and a way to create spectacle, attract attention, and encourage society to echo their sentiments.

In Borland's design a wireless video camera mounted over the wearer’s head records police action. The system transmits the signal directly to a control station, removing the need for a tape, which could easily be destroyed. A speaker in the center of the chest amplifies the wearer’s heartbeat and can also be used to play music or amplify speech. During a group protest, increasing heart rates would be audible as tension and excitement mounted in the crowd, creating a natural soundtrack. At the same time, the audible heartbeat would expose the vulnerability of the individual. The fragility of the human body is exploited as a tool, a shield—almost a weapon—against police munitions.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 247

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