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Art, technology and activism converge in unexpected ways at Hyphen-Labs. Spearheaded by an international team of women of colour, the company pioneers projects engaging art and technology to tackle social issues. The creators of Hyphen-Labs—Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, Ece Tankal, and Ashley Baccus-Clark—joined together in 2014, each bringing with her a unique perspective and background in art and technology; Aguilar y Wedge a Mexican-American engineer; Tankal a Turkish designer and architect; and Baccus-Clark an American molecular and cellular biologist and artist. With Hyphen-Labs, they work together in developing inventive technologies and projects that speak to human experiences.

While in residence at London’s Somerset House Studios, the team is currently working on expanding upon their awarding-winning film “NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism”, a virtual reality piece which premiered as a part of Sundance’s New Frontier Art in January of 2017. The film invites users to step into the experience of a black woman in a ‘neurocosmetology’ salon of the future. The film presents black hair salons as safe, community spaces with open conversation. By immersing the user in the experience of a black woman, the film aims to diminish the user’s anxiety and prejudice. To a different end, the artists also hope the film will offer people of colour much-needed representation by providing images of women of colour engaging in science and technology.

The film also features products created by Hyphen-Labs, which were imagined to complement the virtual reality narrative. This series of physical products is geared specifically at women of colour. Among these beauty products and accessories, you’ll find a sunscreen for dark skin, a prototype of a protective visor meant for predominantly white spaces, and earrings embedded with cameras. The visor utilises dichroic reflective technology to deflect aggressive gazes, shielding the wearer while mirroring the aggressors’ image. Likewise, the earrings offer the wearer protection by subtly recording micro and macro aggressions. Collectively, these products counteract the lack of multidimensional representations of women of colour in technology. Through the multiple narratives presented in “NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism”, Hyphen-Labs demonstrates the immense potential of virtual reality in combating prejudice.

More recently, Hyphen-Labs designed an experience in collaboration with the National Security Council and Energy BBDO to shine light on the opioid crisis in the United States. Directed by Tucker Walsh, the installation Stop Everyday Killers debuted in Chicago in November of 2017. In a darkly lit room, twenty-two thousand brilliantly white, closely packed pills line a black wall. At a distance the pills appear infinite. On closer examination, they transform into human faces. The installation is a memorial to the thousands of lives lost to opioid addiction in the past year. To demonstrate the chilling scope of the crisis, an additional pill is carved every 24 minutes to mark another life lost due to addiction. Hyphen-Labs’ experiential design serves as a public education campaign on the devastation caused by opioid addiction, which impacts one in four Americans.

Tapping into the potential of a closer relationship between art and technology, Hyphen-Labs tackles today’s leading social issues. The mentioned projects are only a few examples in Hyphen-Lab’s expansive portfolio, which shows the team’s headstrong mission of using innovation to improve the lives of others. Given their progress and success, within less than five years, be sure to watch out for the team at Hyphen-Labs as they continue paving the way in art and technology.


Words by Olivia Williams | Feature image via Hyphen-Labs

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