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ECOLOGIES OF CARE

Everyday life is the primary terrain of social change

Silvia Federici, activist, in Wages for Housework


Ecologies of Care showcases a series of new works created during Ani Liu’s postpartum period, in contemplation of the labor of mothering. Reflecting the material culture of infant and childcare, the works shown are created with breast milk, formula, diapers, breast pumps, toys, tracking apps, and screen time.

Echoing throughout the exhibition is the sound of a pump that circulates milk within the gallery space. Created as a material reference to the artist’s intimate experience with breastfeeding and pumping, the volume of milk present in Untitled (Feeding Through Space and Time) ranges from the amount produced in a single session of feeding to a month’s supply of lactation.

“Every month, I create approximately 5.85 gallons of breast milk with her body, which is the volume shown in circulation,” explains the artist. “Shortly after giving birth, the visual and sensory cues of a baby’s suckle causes milk to be ejected from the breasts in a process called letdown. Over the course of pumping for months, the mechanical rhythmic sound of the pump now triggers the letdown reflex from my body. Blurring boundaries between flesh and machine, unexpected intimacy is explored between the body, the pump, and the nourishment of the child.”

The breastpump, first patented in 1854, presents knotty potentials, both liberating and limiting. Its presence allows for the disentanglement of body and milk, which can simultaneously empower choice and obligate postpartum bodies back into the labor force with the assumption that all spectrums of society can balance the demands of paid work and care work. Programmed to the rhythm of the artist’s breast pump, the volume circulating represents a week’s worth of milk pumped in the workplace.

Ani Liu, Untitled (Feeding Through Space and Time), 2022, food grade tubing, liquid pump, air pump, microcontroller, synthetic milk. Technical consultants: William Liu, Julian Goldman. Photo: Ani Liu
Ani Liu, Untitled (Pumping), 2022, food grade tubing, liquid pump, air pump, solenoid valve, microcontroller, synthetic milk. Technical consultants: William Liu, Julian Goldman. Photo: Brad Fawell.

Labor of Love provides a data portrait of the enormous amount of invisible labor that pervades caring for a newborn. Reflecting on the historic devaluation of “women’s” work, this sculpture documents the labor often made invisible, questioning the types of work we value, and the care that we often take for granted.

In this portrait, each vial marks 30 minutes of time. From top to bottom marks the 24 hours of a day. From left to right, the first 30 days postpartum. Each vial is filled with breast milk, formula or diaper fragments to mark a feed or a diaper change.

Ani Liu, Labor of Love, 2022, breastmilk, diaper hydrogel, diaper cotton, glass, acrylic, 60” x 24” x 5”. Photo: Ani Liu.
Ani Liu, Labor of Love, 2022, breastmilk, diaper hydrogel, diaper cotton, glass, acrylic, 60” x 24” x 5”. Photo: D. Peterschmidt.

The Surrogacy (bodies are not factories) questions the relationship between technology, reproduction, and the biopolitical control of bodies as a means for production. It depicts a pig uterus that is pregnant with human fetuses. Raising questions of ethics, both in the exploitation of animals and current human surrogates, The Surrogacy explores the idea of a future in which genetically engineered livestock might someday incubate our children.

“This work was inspired by real research done in interspecific pregnancies to incubate endangered species,” says Liu. “Many technologies seek to engineer social equality, but none is as controversial as the technologization of reproduction.”

It has been argued that biological differences in reproductive roles is one of the central challenges that lead to gender inequality. Does the ability to defer pregnancy indefinitely liberate women to pursue career and life in equal strides with men?  Or is it systemic policy, and political, and cultural norms around pregnancy that need re-innovating? As the biological sciences continue to innovate, The Surrogacy is a provocation that asks viewers to question the relationship between the options that technology brings, and how they confront our cultural and emotional values.

Ani Liu, The Surrogacy (bodies are not factories), 2022, 3D printed polymers, 5.6 x 11.4 x 4.84 in. Photo: Brad Fawell.
Ani Liu, The Surrogacy (bodies are not factories), 2022, 3D printed polymers, 5.6 x 11.4 x 4.84 in. Photo: Ani Liu

The artist raises some other contingent questions, such as how does society construct gender through toys. A series of A.I.-generated toys fuse the relationship between the construction of identity and instruments of play, while exploring the cultural and psychological influences that inform caring for children. Created using a machine learning algorithm trained on real products marketed as “boys” and “girls” toys, these invented toys expose one source of the gendered social values that we place on children and critically ask how we might rewrite and redesign play.

Ani Liu, A.I. Toys, 2022, machine learning algorithm, screens, electronics, 3D printed toys. Research team: Ryan Thorpe, Andrea Li, Michelle Lim, Jenny Zhang. Photo: Brad Fawell
Ani Liu, A.I. Toys, 2022, machine learning algorithm, screens, electronics, 3D printed toys. Research team: Ryan Thorpe, Andrea Li, Michelle Lim, Jenny Zhang. Photo: Brad Fawell
Ani Liu, A.I. Toys, 2022, machine learning algorithm, screens, electronics, 3D printed toys. Research team: Ryan Thorpe, Andrea Li, Michelle Lim, Jenny Zhang. Photo: Brad Fawell
Ani Liu, A.I. Toys, 2022, machine learning algorithm, screens, electronics, 3D printed toys. Research team: Ryan Thorpe, Andrea Li, Michelle Lim, Jenny Zhang. Photo: Brad Fawell

Ani Liu: Ecologies of Care is on view until August 6th 2022 at Cuchifritos Gallery, New York

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