MADE IN CHINA: Selected works from 2007 – 2011
Brody & Paetau started producing paintings in China in 2007 with the exhibition “Painting China Now”. The exhibition was made out of an installation of 30 oil paintings (30cm X 40cm) depicting victims of torture inflicted by the Chinese government upon their own citizens. All paintings were painted in China according to found photographs documenting Falun Dafa members victims of torture in China. These images are censored in China. Accordingly, out of the 20 painting factories that the artists contacted, only 2 companies accepted to produce the work and sent the artists a price offer. Since then Brody & Paetau have employed their “Chinese assistants” on several occasions, exploiting the cheap labour and challenging the viewers’ sense of artistic quality with the Made in China label.
Made in China is one of the most recognizable labels in the world today due to China’s rapidly developing large manufacturing industry. The country is the largest exporter in the world and the Made in China label can be seen on a huge range of goods from clothing to electronics. A series of scandals concerning exports, sweatshops, human rights offenses and torture have harmed the “Made in China” brand, but the western art world has nevertheless been eager to establish galleries in China and to sell chinese art on the western art market. Brody & Paetau however, are more interested in the outsourcing/offshoring phenomenon and in testing the limits of their own strategy. They exploit the critical potential of outsourcing to China and make good use of the specific technical abilities of their chinese assistants to ‘re-produce’ any picture in a realistic manner for unbeatable production prices. Brody & Paetau demonstrate that any artist can afford to work with assistants, thus imitating in an ironical way the production process of well known contemporary artists who employ dozens of assistants in order to fill the demand of production of an avid global art market. The critical strategy of the works could be described as ‘homeopathic’ in the sense of: ‘let like be cured by like’, by re-enacting and thus calling the attention of the public on problematic phenomenons related to politics, power, economy, and the hypocrisy of the western world facing a totalitarian country as a business partner. The ‘China problem’ is far from being resolved and the western art world is not exempted from it – as recent scandals continue to prove with the recent abusive detention of Chinas best known artist Ai Weiwei.
Painting China Now (2007)
An installation of 30 oil paintings (30cm X 40cm) depicting victims of torture inflicted by the Chinese government upon their own citizens. All paintings were painted in China according to found photographs documenting Falun Dafa members victims of torture in China. These images are censored in China. Accordingly, out of the 20 painting factories that we contacted, only 2 companies accepted to produce the work and sent us a price offer.
Wang Bin Torture in Commercial Quality, High Quality and Museum Quality (2010)
In their new work: ‘Wang Bin Torture in Commercial Quality, High Quality and Museum Quality’ the artists chose an extremely explicit photograph focusing on the massacred torso of a torture victim. Although the original photograph is unsharp, there is no doubt about what it is depicting. Using the Chinese oil painting companies’ own product quality grade system, Brody & Paetau commisioned the image to be painted in all three grades: Commercial Quality, High Quality and Museum Quality, each painting measuring 110 cm X 160 cm. What at the first glance appears as cynical artistic exploitation can also be seen as a shock of realities revealed through a conceptual artistic process. On one hand, most civilized countries condemn torture and censorship, on the other, they are eager to profit from Chinas’ cheap production forces and ruthless commercialism. The marketing of art in ‘Commercial Quality, High Quality, and Museum Quality’ is alien to general gallery practice as the artistic and monetary value of a painting is usually not relative to labor time or technical skill.
Wang Bin, born on August 2, 1956, was a computer software engineer at the Institute of Exploration and Development in the Daqing Petroleum Field. He had received science and technology awards on many occasions, and for three ses- sions in a row, he had been a representative of the employee’s assembly at the institute. The Daqing Men’s Labor Re- education Camp tried to transform Falun Gong practitioners by force. Wang Bin was beaten to death because he refused to write letters of repentance. The criminals who beat Wang Bin to death include prisoners Cang Shuangcheng, Song Baocheng and Liu Qinghui, as well as police officers on duty: Feng Xi, Lu Renggeng and Wen Qiang (who has since left his post). The three prisoners kept beating Wang Bin for over 40 minutes, until he had only one breath left. During the beating, Feng Xi was twice informed of Wang’s situation, but he still leisurely enjoyed watching the torture. Lu Renggeng inspected Wang several times while he was on duty, and when Wang Bin died, he ordered prisoners to place Wang Bin on the balcony to cool off a little. At 11 PM on September 24, 2000, Wang Bin was sent to the hospital and examined by Li Jibiao, the doctor who was on duty. The results turned out to be miserable: a lymph artery was broken; over a dozen of his bones, including his collar bone, sternum and ribs were broken; one of Wang’s testicles was also split; the backs of Wang’s hands were found to have been repeat- edly burned; Wang’s nostrils were burned and injured by the lit cigarettes that were inserted into them; and many parts of Wang’s body were black and dark purple.
Respect the Leaders 2008
This series of 5 portraits of prominent Chinese political leaders were created by an underground Chinese dissident artist known as ‘Apple’. Because of the controversial nature of the works, and the laws governing modern China, ‘Apple’ is forced to hide his identity and to work under a pseudonym to avoid serious persecution. Once the paintings are completed, ‘Apple’ and his collaborators ‘vandalized’ the works in a series of anti-government performances. These completed paintings were purchased and shipped to Europe for this exhibition.
Salvador DaliX 2008
The Salvador DaliX paintings are mainly based on pornographic and some political photographs stolen from the internet, then manipulated with the computer and finally painted by ‘my assistants’ in China: commercial painting companies who specialize in reproducing any picture you e-mail them. All the paintings are ‘original’ oil on canvas – handmade of course. It seems that the ‘Made in China’ stamp devaluates the commercial value of the paintings even more than the fact that they were painted by (a poor artists) assistants. At the same time many people admire paintings of famous contemporary artists that are produced by chinese, russian or eastern european assistants who paint for 10 US dollars an hour in New York, Berlin and London. The Salvador DaliX paintings refer to many contradictions and problematic aspects (conceptual, economical, political and visual) that I find interesting.