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The Body of Work

At the Maryland Institute College of Art's Pinkard Gallery through Nov. 12

By Ruth Reader | Posted 11/1/2006

MICA students bustle through Pinkard Gallery on their way to class, making this gallery a casual setting. Grab a coffee from the nearby stand and cozy up to Christopher Whittey's collection of socially and politically charged works. Make sure to pick up one of the accompanying pamphlets when you visit, though, as this exhibit requires a little reading.

The son of an autoworker and a MICA faculty member, Whittey is no stranger to the pitfalls of the industrial world. For the first part of The Body of Work, he cast 16,000 fingers in Hydrocal to illustrate the amount of fingers lost each year by American industrial workers while on the clock. The work itself is represented in "One Hand Washes the Other," in photographs large and small, accompanied by mock safety signs reminding workers to wear safety goggles, protect their ears, and speak no evil.

Part II of Whittey's collection is equally brazen, focusing on the inequalities in the labor force. "Engram International" is composed of two parts--the first part speaks to discrimination in outsourced labor, for which Whittey has imprinted Taco Bell food labels onto rocks in boxes to spotlight the exploitation of cheap labor in Latin America while profiting off the Latino image. The second part of this installation is a chrome-plated shovel and plaque signifying ceremonial use of glorified industrial tools by CEOs.

Part III of The Body of Work addresses labor in prison with a bicycle stand, made by Iowa Prison Industries, painted a high-gloss red, installed opposite "Enclosure," a set of four modernly designed prison uniforms, which all look similar with slight variations in the systems of lines that stretch across them. In fact, what differentiates the prison garb is that each suit is fitted with a bar code belonging to a book on the prison industry. A bibliography is positioned on the wall opposite the suits.

All in all, The Body of Work is a thoughtful collection, but it is, at times, difficult to parse through the intricacies and insinuations in Whittey's work. All of Whittey's ideas need clarification, and if you failed to look through the accompanying pamphlet, you would be quickly left in the dark. It also wouldn't hurt to do a little labor homework beforehand to understand the full effect of Whittey's ambitions.

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