Magazine article Art Monthly

Chen Chieh-Jen

Magazine article Art Monthly

Chen Chieh-Jen

Article excerpt

Chen Chieh-jen

Iniva London 18 September to 21 November

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In 2003 Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-jen invited a group of seamstresses to return to the deserted garment factory in which they had worked for over 20 years prior to being fired without severance pay or pension. The resulting film, Factory, 2003, is a beautifully executed monument to a nation bruised by the vicissitudes of globalisation. Of course, there is nothing new here: Lewis Hine eloquently exposed factory conditions and the brutality of child labour in the early 1900s; then in the post-industrial landscape of the West in the 1970s, as industry relocated to Southeast Asia, activist-photographers such as Allan Sekula and Darcy Lange, filmmakers such as Harun Farocki, and novelists such as Philip Roth moulded hard times into art forms. Taiwan is currently experiencing its own postindustrial migraine as factories relocate to mainland China. Like Roth, Chen's response is a suitable mix of the exquisite and the depressing.

Edited entirely without sound, Factory is visually impressive. Panning cinematically through the vast abandoned Lien Fu garment factory, we look out onto a reliquary of workaday life: teetering stacks of wooden sewing benches, neat rows of chairs, scattered cardboard boxes, a few scraps of cloth. The camera's gaze sweeps along like a caress, flowing sideways over hidden tracks and zooming in with Tarkovsky-like slowness. In front of a pristine phalanx of sewing machines, rows of workers sleep silently. Now, two women stand before us, open a bluish jacket and hold it aloft like a protest banner. Their expressions are blank and enigmatic. The camera zooms gradually into the gaping jacket--and suddenly we are in a different world. A furious medley of archival black-and-white footage of busy Taiwanese factories in the 1960s fills the screen. Vast crowds jump on and off ships and cycle to work; workers sew garments and attend looms; everyone appears happily industrious. We snap back to the present: atmospheric rain strikes a bus, there's a close-up of a weather-worn face and endless rows of chairs. Among the jungle of furniture, three women, whose greying hair seems symptomatic of general economic neglect, set to work wiping away dust with rags dipped in soapy water. It is a graveyard of hopes. A megaphone sits mute on a desk: a discarded tool from the workers' failed attempt, all those years ago, to rally a protest and to stay employed. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.