Checking Out The Real Situation

Posted by on Aug 1, 2011 in China, My Blog | No Comments

Cutting Out China Fire BallChecking out the real situation…..

Though I will never know the real state of this mega nation, it is fascinating being thrown …been drawn, into the midst of it. Us artists are of course in a bizarre bubble , a hand picked group of people from all over the globe, being given special treatment ,very different from your usual tourist visit. Suffice  to say I have only been here ten days and  am in no position to comment in depth….my thoughts are only to be seen as observations.

If the working conditions of the sculpture workers are any indication ,things are pretty rough around here for the lowest beings. The shocking disregard for basic health and safety matters is astounding…..not that I can say my own studio is a shining example, but simple personal precautions are just not there. The stone workers, who stand for literally hours on end at a huge chunk of marble or granite,cutting with big grinders and drilling with big hammer drills have to be  free of bothersome protection like glasses or face masks so their cigarette can hang out of their mouth !I can understand that…it’s about total commitment! Their make shift water cutters are a plastic tube that is wired on to the tool to drip water by gravity on to the blade from a bucket on the stone above. It defies all the usual rules about water and electric tools, and seems to work, but shockingly risky.Like wise I could not believe it when the leader of the metal workers , whilst fixing my plasma cutter, dipped the whole head into the puddle on the studio floor to cool it off before trying to unscrew it. It came as no great surprise when the ceramic shield then exploded with in minutes of him fixing it…the moister couldn’t take the instant heat…..pow ! The plasma equipment is high powered enough to do the job , but amazingly poor quality. Changing tips every 5 minute makes for such a waste of time.The tips , electrodes and shields are very low grade copper and ceramic, but abundant, which seems to give away the general philosophy of this booming nation. Throw cheap materials at the job on hand in unlimited  quantities and you will get the job done eventually. The real cheap resource is the people, who appear to be almost as disposable.
Job security is very high on a school or college leavers mind, hence Sunshine’s conviction that a job in a government office is the way to go….until she retires. I am not sure about that one !

The book I am reading Factory Girls,by Lesley Chang, gives a few interesting insights into the bigger picture nation wide. She terms the current ( past 15 years) movement  of population from the rural areas to the new mega cities as the biggest human mass migration in history.Some of the sneaker factories in the south have upward of 70,000 employees in one complex. I don’t know how many  employees there are in the mega Volkswagen factory here in Changchun…but I learnt an alarming statistic the other night, that it is producing a new car every 60 seconds….or around 5000 per day. And that is only for the Chinese market.  One cant help feel there is little hope for the planet with this rate of resource consumption …..and this is only a quite peaceful northern city (of 8 million) famous for it’s trees,lakes and parks. I can’t imagine what it is like in one of the real hardcore industrial cities.

Back on the personal front, things are moving along well with both sculptures at the moment. The spiral should be finished tomorrow . I started to press all my bits of industrial junk into the freshly smoothed clay….it creates a great mash up pattern. The fun thing is that people are drawn to it….not just by the overpowering magic of the spiral form, but by the detail of the recognizable objects that are squashed into the sides. Computers key boards, car parts, spanners, nuts , bolts…a pistol, scissors etc all catch ones eye . All being token symbols of our efforts to control nature….which by the sign of the spiral , we know to be uncontrollable in the end.

The ball is moving along well. I have eased on the cutting and handed over to the best plasma lad of the workers.He is nameless to me, I am ashamed to admit. We talk with sign language. There is no point in communicating  any other way in the metal work zone. The noise is unbelievable ….the continual compressors, hammering and buzz of worker bees grinding …..5 on one sculpture next door to me. I have come up with a new technique of marking the ball, which has made it much easier for the cutter to follow my lines. I sketch with chalk as before, but now paint the space to be cut with black Chinese ink. Using a classic  cheap Chinese brush gives my lines good flow and the figures more life.

Socially here the international mix up continues a pace. I took a day off on Sunday and went to visit the last emperor’s palace. The puppet emperor was the last of the …dynasty to rule China, but when over powered by the Japanese in 1932 he collaborated  for his life and was installed in this crumby low grade palace in Changchun as a nominal leader, whilst the Japanese were trying legitimize their occupation of Manchuria.    I was with an  Estonian woman, an Indian American woman , a Russian , a Portuguese and young Chinese interpreter . It was a fun excursion , in taxis to Changchun’s only tourist destination to talk of. We were the only western tourists there. The whole place is very  drab and depressing .You can feel the negative energy that the poor emperor and his tortured concubines must have been through  impressed into the walls. The big anti Japanese propaganda museum next door is interesting and horrific. The arrogance and audacity of the Japanese was pretty well presented in true communist museum style panoramas. The legacy of Japanese rape and pillage still lives in the minds of the city.

We ended the day meeting up with all the rest of the artists at a famous Chinese dumplings restaurant , where we were being treated by our host for a dinner out side the hotel. It was an immense feast, with a continual supply of delicious mini stuffed steamed dumplings . Good food ,good comrades.

I had spent the morning taking a wander around the famous sculpture park, which was interesting….and massive. I only covered around a 3rd of it in nearly 2 hours walking. I will write more impressions on that later,when I try to unravel the vagaries and complexities of our hosts and how and why we are actually here.