January 24, 2012  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Design
Suited for Subversion…and Peace, Love, and Understanding

Ralph Borland. Suited for Subversion. 2002. Nylon-reinforced PVC, padding, speaker, and pulse reader. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. Photos by Ralph Borland and Pieter Hugo

Ralph Borland designed Suited for Subversion as a protest tool that could provide protection from police batons during protest events, and at the same time serve to creatively disarm any baton wielders that protesters might confront.

For physical protection, Borland‘s civil disobedience suit uses a nylon-reinforced PV shell stuffed with polyurethane foam. The suit is fitted overhead like a super-shielding cap-sleeved hoodie vest, leaving arms and legs free for mobility.

A minicam is installed at the top of the hood to capture events as the protest plays out. The minicam transmits to a remote device to ensure the safety of the footage, protecting the visual evidence of the day.

The vest also has a small but powerful loudspeaker built into its front chest section. The speaker has the ability to play prerecorded music and/or protest chants and slogans, but its main mission is to amplify the sound of the protester’s heartbeat. The suit is equipped with a “pulse reader” that attaches to the wearer’s ear and connects to the speaker to amplify the sound of a live pulse. The pulse reader is also designed to trigger a prerecorded sample of an individual heartbeat to play through the speaker.

Imagine that.

Ralph Borland. Suited for Subversion (back view). 2002

Really. Imagine the amplified sound of the collective heartbeat of a people united for a cause. It pushes the element of humanity directly to the forefront on the front lines of a protest, doesn’t it?

I like to think that, at heart, protest, revolution, and dissent are really about finding a path to peace, love, and understanding; that they are about finding a path from division into diversity, from discord to harmony. The big, puffy red form of Suited for Subversion, with its amplified beat of humanity, brings to mind the flowers handed out and placed in the gun barrels of the military police by the ardent Flower Power protesters of yesteryear, as it sends the message that we’re in this together, and there’s nothing funny about peace, love, and understanding. In fact these are things well worth fighting for.

Suited for Subversion was first exhibited at MoMA in the exhibition SAFE: Design Takes on Risk in 2005, and is currently on view in the exhibition “Contemporary Galleries: 1980–Now, in an installation that explores the political power of design.

If you can’t make it to the Museum, you can always listen to curator Paola Antonelli talk about this unique work instead.