The Exquisite Candidate

Location: Madison Square Park
Time: 12:00 to 2:30pm

On Tuesday, the students of the MFA Products of Design were out on the streets of New York City, creating design interventions around politics and citizenship. Please find below the results of that work, begun with an introduction by faculty Manuel Toscano and Natalie Balthrop:

"It's the day after the presidential election, and for many this is a time to celebrate! and for just as many it feels like a time to panic. The real story is that this outcome would have been the same regardless of the winner—one side is joyous and empowered, the other taken over by disbelief and fear. On on Election Day 2016, the students of the SVA Products of Design had already understood this to be the biggest challenge of our political system, and as part of the Design and Politics Workshop, they dived into the many aspects of our political discourse that are broken, that need reinvention, that require design solutions to mend what is clearly a system in need of new ideas. Let's hope their work is only the beginning, and a hopeful sign of the ingenuity and positive effort that will bring this political conflict to an end."


nspired by the exquisite corpse game, The Exquisite Candidate aims to move past the differences highlighted in the 2016 election by asking participants “to build their ideal candidate—together.” For each of the three body parts (head, body, and legs), a pair of participants are asked to choose political statements that reflect both of their opinions. The chosen boards have visual illustrations on the back, and together the participants can then build full-size representations of their ideal candidate.

More than 30 passersby built their candidates in Madison Square Park—ranging from an 80-year-old Trump supporter, to policemen, to teenagers. “A common theme in their experiences was how tired and disappointed they felt about this year's election,” the group reported, “and how empowering they found the game to be.” Indeed, in many cases, the game revealed differences in the pair’s opinions. “In response to her partner's supporting the statement that guns make communities safer, one participant exclaimed, ‘what?! you crazy?’ And while they did not necessarily resolve their differences during the game, they compromised and found other statements to agree on.” The group reported that not a single pair failed in choosing their statements—and completing the figure.


“Many participants enjoyed the process of building a figure that represented the issues they cared about,” agreed the group. And added, “In one participant's words, ‘This election has been just so gross...the game was such a nice way to look beyond it.’"


As part of NYCxDesign, the students of the MFA in Products of Design at the School of Visual Arts present ACCESS LTD, a set of roving checkpoints that investigates the way access is granted and denied by design—based on where we’re from, what we look like, how we speak, and what we own. 

Embracing the international theme at the Wanted Design show, the students explore the way our national, cultural, and personal identities determine our opportunities—both locally and globally. Despite global common ground and interdependence, our differences continue to influence what rights and privileges we enjoy. Using the language and tropes of border control, the work invite guests visiting the Wanted Design exhibition to examine the role of design in granting or limiting an individual’s access to place, people, and prosperity.
Visitors receive a passport and collect a stamp at each of the 5 checkpoints. In order to complete their documentation, they are asked to:

ADOPT a foreign identity
MOVE adeptly between cultures
CONNECT words to wares
REVEAL the personality of possessions
EMBODY your design desires

For immediate access, and to bypass the steps above, they can get married...


At Checkpoint: MOVE, dance is used as a metaphor for the ability to move adeptly between cultures—a valuable skill in today’s increasingly interdependent world. Guests get three chances to dance convincingly to 30 second clips of dance music from around the world.


Checkpoint: REVEAL prompts visitors to consider the power, privilege, and personality of their possessions. The interaction is a photo booth for your things. It borrows from the vocabulary of airport baggage scanning—but it is much more fun. Guests empty their pockets and arrange their items on a grid inside, labeling each according to the kind of meaning it holds for them. When the composition is complete, they take a top down photo of their recontextualized belongings.


One of two interactions exploring the access that language grants us, Checkpoint: CONNECT is a memory game. Guests spin the hopper to receive a random language and have just 20 seconds to memorize five words in that language: table, stool, lamp, clock, and bowl. Presented with photographs of products on exhibit at Wanted Design, the visitor is then challenged to correctly label them with a set of magnets. 


Checkpoint: EMBODY employs the trope of the carnival cutout to comment on the extent to which we allow ourselves to be defined by the objects we own and admire. Using augmented reality, the intervention invites guests to take a passport picture embellished by products on exhibit at Wanted Design. The visitors apply codes to that represent furniture and fixtures to a magnetic silhouette, stand behind it, and are transformed into “furniture monsters.”


Checkpoint: ADOPT asks guests to select a new nationality to be stamped on their passport. But there’s a catch: they will need to convince the patrollers that they can pass by saying one key phrase in their adopted country’s language. Guests listen to the phrase “Hi, can I tell you about my work?” and receive a phonetic spelling of that phrase in the language they’ve chosen, and have three attempts to pronounce it correctly.