Exposing the messy nature of reproductive labor

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The milk on this exhibit is just not actual. After a lot experimenting, Liu ended up filling the pump with “magician’s milk,” a proprietary formulation, bought from a magic store, that requires no refrigeration and comes with the warning “Not a meals product. Don’t drink!” Nonetheless, it appears to be like convincing. When putting in the piece, Liu initially thought-about having the milky coils take over the entire gallery flooring, much more aggressively immersing guests within the visible and aural panorama of new child care.

tubing on the floor filled with white liquid
Untitled (feeding by means of area and time) makes use of 328 toes of plastic tubing full of artificial milk.


Liu, who holds graduate levels from the Harvard Graduate Faculty of Design and the MIT Media Lab, resumed instructing simply 5 days after she gave start in 2021. She had simply signed a brand new contract as an affiliate professor of observe at Penn, and the college gives maternity go away solely to staff of greater than a 12 months. Although she was initially allowed to show over Zoom from her dwelling in Queens, she ended up pumping greater than nursing. “I developed this actually intense relationship with my pump, the place simply listening to the sound of it made me let down, quite than my child’s cry. It was simply such a bizarre Donna Haraway cyborg second,” she says, referring to the feminist science and know-how scholar who wrote, of the cyborg, that it “doesn’t dream of group on the mannequin of the natural household.”

It was additionally a second that led Liu to new analysis. Her discoveries emerge within the works on show within the Cuchifritos Gallery, which embody a sequence of three-dimensional meditations on know-how, motherhood, and childhood in our algorithm-­enabled world. 

detail of Untitled (milk fat globules)
In Untitled (milk fats globules), a milk molecule, photographed beneath a microscope, is layered, color-corrected, and printed on an aluminum panel formed after a preferred model of scallop-edged nursing pads.


Pumping can be on displayas a part of the second version of the exhibition “Designing Motherhood,” now on the MassArt Artwork Museum in Boston. Michelle Millar Fisher, a part of the curatorial staff, wrote that the work “cuts proper to the center of the methods during which reproductive labor is hidden, romanticized, socially taboo, and undervalued.” 

Liu’s work has extra urgency and resonance after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Who controls, who helps, and who performs reproductive labor should not simply bed room or broom closet questions (and by no means ought to have been); they’re taking part in out on the streets, in state homes, and within the Supreme Court docket. 

Millar Fisher has drawn parallels between Liu’s pumping set up and the work of the artist Hiromi Marissa Ozaki, often called Sputniko!, whose 2010 Menstruation Machine simulates the expertise of menstruation; the video a part of the piece exhibits a fictional day within the lifetime of a younger man who builds a tool to expertise life as an individual with a uterus. 

Liu has lengthy been fascinated by this kind of simulated expertise. In 2019, after watching YouTube movies of males sampling simulated labor pains with a purpose to perceive their wives’ expertise, and discovering them wanting on a number of ranges, she determined to create her personal apparatuses, together with a garment known as Untitled (girl pains), fitted with a stomach and electrodes, that will enable any non-pregnant individual to expertise the burden and discomforts of being pregnant. One other within the sequence, Untitled (small inconveniences), simulates incontinence. Made in collaboration with fabricator Randi Shandroski, the clothes appear to be lingerie and simulate one results of intercourse, however these should not experiences usually thought-about attractive.

Untitled (Small Inconveniences) artwork displayed in gallery
Untitled (small inconveniences): A garment designed to simulate incontinence as one of many signs of being pregnant.


Her items show a mischievous humor, embedded within the on a regular basis indignities of contemporary life. Shopper tradition may appear to have fun being pregnant, however the merchandise pushed to pregnant individuals give attention to all of the issues which might be “unsuitable” with the pregnant physique: temper swings, stretch marks, incontinence. In response, Liu created Consumerist Being pregnant, which features a sequence of lotions, masks, and medicines, designed in excessive millennial model (monochrome packaging, sans serif fonts) however actually labeled “Fatigue,” “Shortness of Breath,” “Swelling.” In the event you noticed them on a pharmacy shelf you’d be initially attracted, however when you learn the outline, whilst an individual who has been pregnant, it might be laborious to not say No, thanks

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