Display Series No. 9

Installation dimensions vary

mylar, mirrors, found objects

2018 

This piece looks closely to the growing luxury market in China and its relationship with “Shanzhai” (the Chinese counterfeiting phenomenon) and what “Made in China” really means throughout the history of the modern Chinese economy.

This installation aims to discuss, on one hand, the democratic quality of “Shanzhai” and its wide acceptance in China, and on the other hand, the way it initiated and furthered the transformation of Chinese worship from religious belief to the devotion to exchange value.

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The Chinese counterfeiting industry started in the late 1990s when no one could afford luxury products. The cheap copies of foreign brands succeeded in satisfying people’s eagerness and making the actual commodities even more desirable. Today, as our economy rapidly grows every year, there is an increasing number of Chinese tourists that fly 8 to 12 hours to Europe and the United States to shop. The experience of traveling long distance with patience and high expectations for a short visit reminds me of my experience of going to the Buddhist temple when I lived in China. The absurd resemblance between religious worship and luxury consumption is a microcosm of the complex tensions that economic growth has brought to China. Luxury stores have become the new locus for Chinese worship.

This installation presents an abstracted Chinese landscape - mountains, and one Buddhist temple. They are two dimensional cutouts of thin mylar applied on the back wall of the gallery space. The temple forms a visual focus at the viewer’s eye level. It is shaped as a negative space by the positive curves of the mountains. On the opposite side, outlines of mountains are applied on the window as well. Two layers of two-dimensional images - back wall and front window overlapping create a visual depth when viewing from the street outside of the space. A mirrored podium sits at the center of the space with one small handbag and a few apple shaped metal spheres on top. The box reflects and generates collages of its surroundings - the audiences and the objects.

The choices of materials are heavily coded in this piece of work. Mylar is fragile, reflective and translucent when light comes through it, which produces an impression of the landscape being ghosted. A mirrored box hints at a commercial display environment where it is commonly used. The small handbag appears to be branded as Louis Vuitton, but the judgement of its authenticity is left to the perception of the viewers. In ancient China, apples were gifts for the royal families; they were associated with social status and luxurious lifestyle. Later on, western apples gained popularity because they were widely seeded by American soldiers during China’s period of colonization. The semantic meaning of apples references the idolization of European and American luxury brands in the Chinese consumer market.