Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Harmonious Society

In September I had the amazing opportunity to participate at an artists' residency outside of HangZhou, China.  Skillfully organised by Luca Zordan, an Italian based curator, and hosted by SUN HOO Industrial Design Innovation Park at their office complex (still under construction) in Fuyang.

The New China is experiencing another "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution".  Only this time around, the past is being swept away and the countryside developed beyond recognition more effectively by the pursuit of money than it ever was by  political ideology.  Not everyone, though, has signed on to the vision of the bright and shiny future.  And many more bristle at the greed and corruption that always partners enormous sums of money. Even I caught a faint whiff of trouble in the workers' paradise.  Slogans, posted by a government obsessed with control and protecting their status quo are everywhere.   "It is patriotic to obey the laws" is one that caught my attention on a roadside wall.  But the phrase "Harmonious Society" leads the pack in the "maintenance of stability" department.  

The glittering cities which have gone viral in China are constructed by a new underclass - migrant workers.  Beside every building site there sits a 2 story blue temporary metal structure which serves as worker's housing.  When the project is completed, the workers' housing comes down, and the workers themselves drift away.  The one at SUN HOO was located in an excavated pit (which will hold the substructure of a future high-rise), surrounded by its own stagnant pond of run-off water.  Many workers chose to live in impromptu tent villages built within the high-rises under construction rather than suffer the heat of the metal rooms they are allotted.  I too lived in the construction site, albeit in a completed building.  I had a room, air conditioning and an en-suite bathroom.  I watched in privilege the ebb and flow of the workers and how things changed almost daily from their raw labor.

With much pointing and smiling coupled with my sputtering Mandarin, I began taking photos of workers hands forming gestures in American Sign Language.  The 11 photos spelled out HE XIE SHE HUI, which is PINYIN for Harmonious Society.  (PINYIN is the phonetic spelling of Chinese characters in the Latin alphabet.  Very useful when using a QWERTY keyboard).  I displayed them propaganda style in a building they had recently completed.

Christopher Pelley  HARMONIOUS SOCIETY  installation

Christopher Pelley  HARMONIOUS SOCIETY  installation

The project continued at SUN HOO with a lo-rez portrait of one of the migrant workers.  Each 'pixel' of the portrait was a 5cm x 5cm piece of painted paper.  Still unfinished at the time the residency ended, I installed it "as is" on the floor of an unoccupied building.  The breezes blowing through the space disrupted the image and soon, like the workers, it will disappear. 

Christopher Pelley  MIGRANT WORKER  installation

It was an awesome time. I saw a lot, learned a lot, and left feeling morally ambiguous.  

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