Pick of the week #79
This week’s pick is ‘Consumption’, a performance by Li Liao.
Liao entered the work force at the Shenzhen Foxconn factory for a total of 45 days, before using his earnings to purchase the same iPad Mini he was assembling on the factory line. He exhibited the relics of his experience at UCCA’s ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice; his white coat and ID badges contrasting with the gadget he had worked to produce.
Born in 1982 in the Hubei province, China, Liao’s art is described as “based on experiments with social systems that use his own person as the key subject. He often actively mixes himself into fraught situations or intentionally upsets customs in order to bring about new recognitions. In [Consumption] he frames a clear and revelatory relation between production and consumption.” (ON | OFF)
Liao says; “I initially thought that it would be very hard to get a job, but, in fact, it was easy. I simply applied and passed the physical exam and the face-to-face interview. They had almost no requirements at all. As long as you’re literate with no significant physical problems, you get hired.
The section I worked in was called ‘prior welding A.O.I.’ which means ‘automatic optical inspection before welding.’ My title was ‘employee type one’, which means ‘regular employee.’ The actual work was looking for flawed scans of the P.C.B. [the printed circuit boards], and taking out the flaws for repair or whatever they needed.
You stay in the factory twelve hours a day—ten hours in the workshop, two hours for lunch and dinner. The work was repetitive and boring.”(newyorker)
Liao explains; “The living environment is about on par with one of your worse university dorm rooms. There are four sets of triple bunk beds in each room. As long as I was there, our room had no more than eight people in it. But I only found that out by asking others, because it was rare for everyone in a room to be there at the same time; some work the day shift, some work the night shift, some quit after just a few days.”(newyorker)
In our consumer culture it seems common to show no interest in where our gadgets come from, the human cost, or carbon footprint. This project comments especially on the paradoxical nature of our lust for the latest device, without any way of measuring its worth. By contrasting the days he worked at the factory with the actual product, Liao makes this measurement very clear. He also seems to be dissatisfied with the clinical nature of the operation; crafting these machines is not a labour of love, but a low-payed, repetitive job performed by many people for a huge corporation.
“I don’t think this experience changed my perception of the products; it only made one thing clearer: many of the products in this world actually have nothing to do with the workers who made them. To most of the workers there, Apple was just a name, a logo.”(newyorker)
Newyorker quotes from Q&A with Evan Osnos