Cue China (Elsewhere, Offshore)

Ant Hampton

To say their work makes up ‘the very fabric of our lives’ is no exaggeration. Our bodies are covered from head to foot in the clothes they make. All day long we touch and stare into the screens they assemble and clean. Our communications – such a major part of our lives now – are sent pulsing through the circuitry they solder together. Mass-produced, yes… but also hand-made. Whose hands? We’ve started hearing more about the workers’ conditions, their treatment, the hours, the risks to their health and the distance from their families. Maybe we try not to give it much thought.

CUE CHINA (Elsewhere, Offshore) weaves together recordings of video chats between Ant Hampton and Chinese migrant workers to create a dream-like encounter wherein these repressed thoughts rise to the surface; a fiction bridging the humanist and supernatural divide. What would happen if, rebooting after a minor hardware update, your computer’s screen showed only the face of someone involved in making it? And what if they’d engineered this strange circumstance and could see you too?

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Autoteatro works are automatic structures sustained by the audience themselves – in this case, the simple presence of their faces. You and a partner (you may or not know them) sit either side of a uniquely designed construction, and see each other through reflective, angled glass panels. It’s a kind of doubled ‘autocue’ allowing an unusual mix of animation, film, soundtrack and ghostly overlay. Via these automatic means a strong sense of presence is conjured as the face of an otherwise inaccessible worker begins to mix with that of your partner.

At the work’s core is a simple proposal – that as consumers we stop for a moment, look into the eyes of those who make our stuff, and allow them to look back at us with an equal capacity for curiosity, humour and desire.

In this way Ant draws on his seperate and ongoing ‘live portrait’ work (The Other People; structured encounters with people from non-theatrical milieu, often involving real-life subjects who agree to simply sit or stand and be looked at by viewers – Buenos Aires 2008, National Portrait Gallery London 2008-09). What that project leans towards – ‘a reversal of society’s retreat into niches, a breaking down of the invisible barriers preventing communication and understanding between people from different backgrounds’ – resonates here too, as these workers are in many ways carefully hidden from view.

The experience of Cue China goes beyond this though, into deeply uncanny territory, as the faces of audience / performer, consumer / maker, supply / demand are literally fused – and confused. By allowing their image to occupy us, we find ourselves giving depth and live presence to people who even in sympathetic reports too often come over as nothing more than victims.

From the artist: 

“A.H.Jia Jing-chuan and Guo Rui-qiang worked in a factory assembling gadgets for Apple until their nerves were permanently damaged by chemicals used during the cleaning of screens. I decided not to travel to China for filming, and purposefully constrained myself to a consumer role using an Apple laptop for the entire process of communication, scripting, recording and edit.” – A.H.

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