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Art review: Factory, Chen Chieh-jen

September 11, 2005

This art work is part of the exhibition This Storm is what we call Progress, showing at the recently-reopened Arnolfini gallery at the Bristol waterfont. It consists of a thirty minute silent film showing workers in a Chinese textile factory.

The treatment is slow and meditative, and most of the audience quickly walked out with dismissive comments… But the effect of submitting to the soft textures and blue tone colour schemes was hypnotic and deeply poignant – one scene in particular, showing an old woman, eyes weak from years of sewing, struggling to thread a needle, was extremely powerful, and in some ways seemed to capture some essential truth about the human condition and, indeed, life: after struggling, in close up, for at least two excruciating minutes, she threads the needle and continues sewing.

There is a clear narrative to the film: the workers entered the factory as young girls, but later it closed, and then reopened after years. They return to the factory, clean it and get back to work.
It also seems to comment on many things, and a variety of intepretations sprang to mind: comment on post-industrial decay, conditions in sweatshops, or just a mediation on the passing of time.

But for me, the film works best on a purely visual level, just as a sequence of mesmerising images: a ceiling fan, rain seen through a bus window, a needle sewing, tea leaves swirling in a glass -a beautiful example of the sublimation of the mundane, finding meaning in the most boring and repititious of tasks.

In a sense, I felt it needed an Arvo Part soundtrack, because both artists share a sense of beauty in absense, somehow convey the shape of something tremendously significant through the holes and shadows in their work.

Profoundly moving and very beautiful.

Which reminds me of another film I saw recently: Last Days, Gus van Sants film ‘inspired’ by the last days of Kurt Cobain. Not much happens, it could be argued that the film is very boring, and yet it has a strange and haunting beauty.

The best scene is where Michael Pitt, the actor playing the Cobain character, plays a heart-wrenching song of his own composition, “it’s a long and lonely road from death to birth”. The moment is pure Cobain.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    September 11, 2005 9:40 pm

    Hi there, just jumping around the blogs looking for some ideas to improve my blog and landed on yours. I like the way you have laid it out. It has given me some good ideas, thanks. My blog isn’t up to much but I have a really good affirmation site. (It helps people achieve their Dreams). Check it out if you get the time :-) Anyway keep up the good work and I’ll try and get back here soon. Have a really good day.

  2. Walton permalink
    September 11, 2005 10:51 pm

    Thanks for the comment and link, that’s really cool…

  3. Rolo permalink
    October 7, 2005 5:47 pm

    Found a lot of useful info on your site about sublimation – thank you. Haven’t finished reading it yet but have bookmarked it so I don’t lose it. I’ve just started a sublimation blog myself if you’d like to stop by

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