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FREEDON (and on and on)

Shanzhai Lyric


This text is a preview to the Shanzhai Lyric contribution to the next issue of Press & Fold magazine, coming out this fall.


FREEDON echoes freedom but it has lost one line. The alteration of M into N in the moments of manufacture reveals the hollowness of the word, hobbling along, missing something. Taking delight in nonstandard English, FREEDON offers an ethics of error, valorising a ‘broken’ English for its ability to astutely and humorously comment upon a contemporary life that in many ways feels broken. In its half-hearted imitation of the English ‘freedom,’ FREEDON is at once a poor copy, where something seems to have gone awry, and a demonstration of joyous abandon: the FREEDON to circulate freely, to don whatever and disregard the rules.

The title of this article comes from a particularly poignant t-shirt found in Hong Kong last year. What appears to be a spelling mistake can be a conceptual opening. Rejection of the standard carves a path towards poetic insight unmoored from correctness. ‘Mistakes’ reveal a certain agency, the labour and gesture of the human hand. FREEDON is a moment of freedom from the imposition of ‘freedom.’ It is the refusal of an empty claim. FREEDON calls out freedom’s bluff.


fashion

Shanzhai Lyric, FREEDON (and on and on) at Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths, 2019. Photos by Luke Casey.


In the Pearl River Delta, where an abundance of the world’s goods are made for export, alternate markets circulate items known as shanzhai. In English, we might say counterfeit, or bootleg, or fake. But in our findings these translations aren’t quite right.


In Chinese, shanzhai literally means mountain hamlet, suggesting an area where outlaws would stockpile stolen resources to redistribute among those on the margins. The word shanzhai retains this sense of subversive resistance and rejects the very notion of a single, original, rightful owner.


library

Shanzhai Lyric, FREEDON (and on and on) at Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths, 2019. Photos by Luke Casey.


In shanzhai collaborations between seamstress and machine, the loom is a potential instrument of rebellion. In snatched moments on unsanctioned tools, the shanzhai shirt as stolen product protests a larger theft: theft of land, theft of resources, theft of time.


The hybrid language that appears on shanzhai clothing – mostly made by women and an object of fascination and derision around the world – can also be read as ‘shanzhai lyrics,’ a feminist project of appropriation poetics, a form of écriture féminine written from and on the body. A la Nasrullah Mambrol’s description of écriture féminine as conceptualized by Helene Cixous, shanzhai writing is also "characterised by disruptions in the text such as gaps, silences, puns, new images... incomprehensible and inconsistent... it is attributed to centuries of suppression of the female voice, which now speaks in a borrowed language." 1 Wantonly rearranging a borrowed tongue, it destabilizes hierarchy, and makes space for new insights at the site of non-normative language.



LIVING IN POVERTY DOESN’T MEAN
STERILITY, IN THE FACE OF
F THE PESSIMISTIC
THINKING ABOUT THE
FUTURE STATE OF THE
EARTH.
THE RESULT OF MORE
LIBERAL IDEAS KEEP
CLOSE TO LIFE.
NOMADIC
MINIMALIST COSTUMES
ARE CREATED BASED ON
SPATIAL DIMENSION
ISSUES LIKE MEDITA TION
BLOWED AWAY BY MIST.
THE NEUTRAL AND
CALM VAPIDITY
ENLIGHTENED USTO
EXPLORE WHAT WE NEED
ON EARTH.
INESCAPABLE REALITY IS
REFLECTED PERFECTLY
THROUGH PLAIN AND
SIMPLE TONES.



These T-shirts model what we might call shanzhai tactics: subverting hierarchy through exaggerated mimicry.
Logos become symbols that mock the hyperbole of branding.
Language is transformed into an unspooling pattern.



jldjladjflaeijliajfdljfladjlajdfladjf



These T-shirts model what we might call shanzhai tactics: subverting hierarchy through exaggerated mimicry. Logos become symbols that mock the hyperbole of branding. Language is transformed into an unspooling pattern.



UNEMPLOYED
Dear my boss,
I don’t want to was i for the weekens
I’m going to find my happiness
(Skateboard, Read a boot Surf,
Travel, Dance Seep)
SO I WILL QUIT!!                           Happiness Makes
Please confirm                                 business sense
————————————————————
Chance
Vogue Meili On theaicxa iswafrcoj the the aicxae mesor the


The rampant interweaving of branded trademarks, plagiarized material, and unrecognizable content destabilizes clear distinctions between original and copy, undermining claims to intellectual property rights. And yet, the rich and powerful continue to determine the parameters of who gets fined or jailed for violating them. As the popularity of shanzhai grows, Western corporations have begun making their own shanzhai inspired lines – shanzhai shanzhai. In its Canal Street shanzhai-style pop-up shop, the brand Diesel sold DEISEL merchandise, capitalizing on the aesthetics of counterfeit and the appeal of a deliberate flaw. Despite this cheeky homage, who gets called (and sued for being) a bootlegger has to do with the continued delineation and protection of private property for a small elite. Corporate entities can afford to defend their plagiarism as innovation; the smaller operations of the secondary market cannot.

dfscriptive

Shanzhai Lyric, FREEDON (and on and on) at Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths, 2019. Photos by Luke Casey.


Perhaps the widespread appeal of shanzhai products in the West (as evidenced by the swell of articles, blogs, fashion lines, music and art projects both documenting and inspired by shanzhai) has to do with a sense that shanzhai writing rejects the logic of individual ownership and exploitation of the many by the few. Instead, it retains something of the shared resources and communal spirit of the commons, where communities sustained themselves on land that was not yet parcelled out by fences and hedges – and whose ownership and control by a single person would have seemed absurd.



ENJOY THE
FREEDOM OF THE
WORLD

totalitarianism
I N D E S P E N S I B L E



Largely made from appropriated materials, shanzhai writing can be read as evidence of what Marxist feminist scholar Sylvia Federici, in her text Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, refers to as “everyday forms of resistance,” the pilfering, smuggling, poaching, and piracy that have long been the daily survival and subversion methods of the underclass to enact the redistribution of goods. A specifically feminist framing of shanzhai fashion production links the daily uncompensated labour of women that enabled the development of capitalism with contemporary issues of unequal access to the wealth generated by technological innovation.

along

Shanzhai Lyric, FREEDON (and on and on) at Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths, 2019. Photos by Luke Casey.


Among the many tasks women did and do that are not considered ‘labour’ and thus remain undercompensated, spinning textile was traditionally a woman’s task. This exploitative gendered division of labour can still be seen today where, according to Emilie Schultze, “70% of garment workers in China are women, in Bangladesh 85%, and in Cambodia as high as 90%”2 and wages for garment work remain unfairly low. These contemporary conditions reflect Federici’s argument that primitive accumulation is not only a historically situated occurrence but is “re-launched in the face of every major capitalist crisis, serving to cheapen the cost of labour and to hide the exploitation of women and colonial subjects.”3



LOVE FOR $ALAD
pick-me-up girls

Life is too short to waste any time on wondering what other people think about you In the first place, if they had better things going on in their lives, they would have the time to sit around and talk about you What’s important to me is not others’ opinions of me, but what’s important to me is my opinion of myself



Today, the manual aspects of computing, the labour of inputting information, are still mostly done by female workers who perform the daily, thankless tasks upon which a male-dominated industry depends in order to demonstrate rapid growth and the smoothness of its apparently disembodied operations.

These underpaid and invisibilized workers are referred to as ‘mechanical turks,’ a term that retains its orientalising origins from when it was coined to describe the amazing human-machine hybrid of a chess-playing robot dressed in Turkish clothing (in order to hide the real human inside the machine, moving the pieces with magnets and receiving no credit).

You can't dress me up!

Shanzhai Lyric, FREEDON (and on and on) at Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths, 2019. Photos by Luke Casey.


As Shawn Wen has shown, today the term is used to describe the workers, disproportionately women of colour, who carry out the gruelling tasks a human can do more accurately than a computer, such as captioning images or transcribing subtitles.4 Thus, the textual and textile ‘errors’ visible in photos of Google books that catch the shadow of a scanning hand or in the typos of a shanzhai tee are sites of rupture that point to the lie of seamless production and reveal the presence of bodies upon which capitalist industry depends and which it conceals.



It’sNotWhoYou Are…
It’sWhaYouWear…
1Mean,
WhoReahy Cares
Who YouAre
Anyway



The secondary clothing market in China might be said to bridge the ‘women’s tasks’ of both textile manufacture and computer programming to design and produce shanzhai garments available for purchase in markets and on e-commerce sites. The language that erupts from the speed of shifting global trends, filtered through the particular gendered economics and mechanics of garment design, production, sale, and purchase, is displayed atop the garments, a literal speaking the body.

New

Shanzhai Lyric, FREEDON (and on and on) at Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths, 2019. Photos by Luke Casey.


Thus, while this area of women’s labour continues to be underpaid, under-protected, and under-recognized, the resultant shanzhai writing should nonetheless be appreciated as a site of creative agency and influence that communicates and comments upon the aesthetics and poetics of power and desire, rather than as an accidental by-product of faceless factory figures.



THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING A WOMAN ARTIST
FEAR IS THE MOST ELEGANT WEAPON
YOUR HANDS ARE NER MESSY
THREATENING BODILY HARMIS CRUDH
WORK INSTEAD ON MINDS AND BELIED
PLAY INSECURITIESLLIKEA PIANO BE
CRBATIVEIN APPROACH.FORCS
ANXIETYTO EXCRUCLATING LBVELSOU
GENTLY UNDERANNE THE PUBLIC
CONFIDENCE PANICDRIVERS BLNDMAY
IYER CLIFFS ANLTBBRNATIVBIS
IRRROR-INDUCED IMMOBILZA
FERDS ON FEAR PUT THIS EFFICIENT PROCESS IN MOTION
FASEF CCN.TFSSFS



Shanzhai garments are so fetishized in the West precisely because they do not conceal the labour of production and the anxiety of surplus but instead articulate its contours in a hybrid machine-human language that speaks to the absurdities and inequalities of accumulation.

A major site of terrifying excess, the fashion industry encapsulates the catastrophe of waste. The rush of words that covers and smothers the shanzhai T-shirt is at once constructed of and deconstructs the contradictions of abundance; shanzhai writing is a costume of carnage within the carnivalesque performance of both violence and delight. We babble and exclaim. Freed, and on and on. FREEDON.


1   Mambrol, N. (2016). ‘Ecriture Feminine’, on: Literary Theory and Criticism website, May 14, 2016. See https://literariness.org/2016/05/14/ecriture-feminine.

2   Schultze, E. (2015). ‘Exploitation or emancipation? Women workers in the garment industry’, on: Fashion Revolution website. See www.fashionrevolution.org/exploitation-or-emancipation-women-workers-in-the-garment-industry.

3   Federici, S. (2014). Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation. Autonomedia. p. 17.

4   Wen, S. (2014). ‘The Ladies Vanish’, on The New Inquiry website, November 11, 2014. See https://thenewinquiry.com/the-ladies-vanish.

freedon FREEDON, Shanzhai Lyric, Canton Road Market, Hong Kong Courtesy Display Distribute



– – –

This text is published on the occasion of a current cycle of work that seeks to put shanzhai lyrics in conversation with artist practices that occupy the ‘non-serious’ sites of gossip, fashion accessory, textile, glitch, and theft. Drawing on Marxist feminist discourses that examine the contemporary conditions sustaining the historical invisibilizing of women’s labour (for instance, in fashion production or as data processors in IT industries), here shanzhai lyric is considered as an unauthorized collective creative process that refutes the logic of private ownership and fosters instead the active redistribution of property. The work has been supported by the Women’s Art Library, Special Collections & Archive at Goldsmiths (London), as year-long ‘Archive in Residence,’ and anticipates a larger presentation of Shanzhai Lyric’s ‘The Incomplete Poem’ (2015-) at Abrons Art Center in New York, Fall 2019.

A project of Display Distribute, the Shanzhai Lyric is an inquiry into global logistics and linguistics through the prism of technological aberration and nonofficial cultures. By collecting, archiving, and studying the experimental text that often appears on counterfeit (shanzhai) clothing coming out of China and proliferating across the globe, the project looks specifically at how the language of counterfeit uses mimicry, hybridity, and permutation to both revel in and reveal the artifice of global hierarchies, exploring the potential of mis-translation and nonsense as utopian world-making.

This project was realized with support from the Women’s Art Library/Feminist Review Bursary, RADMIN, and Life Sport.


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