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New Art Show Takes Wearable Tech to Its Dystopian Extreme

Conceptual artist Jonathon Keats is here to pick up where Google Glass leaves off.

Among the fantastical fashion items Keats dreamed up: rings that telescope to extend the wearer's personal space. 


To paraphrase Goebbels, a lot of conceptual art makes you want to reach for your revolver. All too often, that genre combines the worst of two worlds—it’s simultaneously crashingly obvious and totally opaque.

The experimental works of Jonathan Keats are a refreshing exception. For those who crave artistic brain candy, Keats is a veritable See’s factory. His conceptual work actually makes you think. It’s based on real research, and its extended philosophical metaphors are sophisticated and witty. In previous shows, the artist and author (his latest book is on Buckminster Fuller) has turned his mordant eye on subjects ranging from climate change (for which he installed a camera with a thousand-year-long exposure) to God (which he collaborated with UC Berkeley scientists to genetically engineer). Now he’s produced an unholy and hilarious coupling of two of the modern world’s favorite things: neuroscience and fashion.

In “Superego Suits,” which opens tonight at the newly relocated Modernism Gallery with fashion photography by Elena Dorfman, Keats offers a dazzling and dystopian collection of concepts for high-tech attire that is not only stylish but can, the sales pitch goes, literally upgrade your personality. Forget Google Glass: these interventions are far deeper (even if, unlike Google Glass, they are totally fantastical). Testosterone-releasing bracelets can make everyone an alpha human. Physical limitations, too, are a thing of the past, with mechanical heels that automatically raise the wearer to the height of anyone he or she encounters, facilitating self-esteem and a greater belief in individual agency. And all of the psychological states induced by Keats’s wearables can also be reversed, leading to potentially catastrophic consequences: When those mechanical heels descend, nihilism can result. This may sound ominous, but as Keats notes, we have already embarked on unconscious self-reengineering with iPhones and Fitbits. Why not consciously embrace the brave new world of species perfectability (or its opposite), at a fine retail store near you?

Height-adjusting heels.


“Superego Suits” opens tonight, Thursday, March 16, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Modernism Gallery, 724 Ellis Street (at Larkin Street). 415-541-0461. After the opening, visit by appointment.  


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