The new human: you and I in global wonderland

An exhibition in the upper gallery of the Moderna Museet in Malmö that is showing the work of eleven artists who have produced videos that explore the sense of isolation and alienation that people feel as the World changes rapidly through wars and with migration from the countryside to the city or from one country to another in pursuit of work.

Many of the videos have a strong political or social and moral stance, and are more powerful and important for that, but this is primarily a design blog. However, the series of three videos from Cao Fei and the accompanying interviews, collections of photographs and some installation artefacts brought me up short for the points it made about the design World. 

Whose Utopia, My Future is not a Dream and What are you doing here? were filmed in the Osram factory in the Pearl River Delta in 2006.

One film shows workers strangely and awkwardly frozen in a pose … the artist has clearly asked them to hold the pose without explaining why and there is no speech but in that slightly embarrassed pause, as work carries on in the background, you see faces begin to look worried or look quizzical or look frustrated and in the stretched-out wait you see simple differences that make these young migrant workers all incredibly different.

There is a dream-like sequence with dancers, some performing western ballet movements, and this represents some of the aspirations or hopes of these people who have left parents, spouses, children and familiar homes for the draw of regular salaries. 

What is heart-wrenching is the photographs of the worker’s dormitories where they have created small personal sleeping spaces on huge shelves of Dexion racking and pallets with their personal possessions - the cheap versions of the luxury goods other Chinese factories are making for the west like carry-on cases with wheels when they are going nowhere - and many have toys, which emphasises just how young many of these workers are, and there are posters of western celebrities including football stars to show their hopes for something different from life.

Just what is the real cost of the design goods we import?