Pop-up Republics is an exhibition in four shipping containers by a co-curatorial collective called Dark Border Developments (DbD). The co-curators, Paul Booth, Beccy Kennedy, Ming Turner and Toby Heys formed the faux development company aka curator collective due to shared interests in both Dark Tourism and Border Studies. Booth, Kennedy and Heys – all based at MIRIAD and MMU – had in common research activities into the North-South Korean boundary – the ominous DMZ. Meanwhile, Ming Turner – of National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan – who had worked with Kennedy previously, wanted to explore, curatorially, issues of border and belonging by drawing from Taiwan’s precarious relationship with mainland China. Working with a mixture of local and international artists, DbD have explored the concept of ‘micronation’ whilst contesting notions of nationhood by proposing four separate and movable micronations in shipping containers with carefully constructed interiors, all of which double up as newly commissioned art installations. Twice during the exhibition, a boat transports visitors between Manchester and Salford to form a tour of the containers.
Container/micronation 1 – Cottonecropolis, presents work by UK based artist Daksha Patel, whose recent projects have straddled the boundaries between art and biological forms of imaging. The multi-sensory installation links Manchester’s place as the original site of the industrial revolution – which was once coined ‘Cottonopolis’ due to its strong position in the cotton trade and textile industry – to current global garment manufacturing free trading zones (also known as Export Processing Zones) in parts of Asia. In both instances, the body of the labourer has been subjected to inhumane working conditions and in the case of free trading zones, a ban on trade union membership and legally recognised working regulations. A textile factory in one of the most notorious of these zones, in Chittagong, Bangladesh, set fire in 2006 killing more than fifty people due to an absence of health and safety regulations and because the workers were routinely locked into the factory – on the premise of potential employee theft. Cottonecropolis represents a cenotaph to remember bodies lost within the garment industry. Patel underwent a full body scan of the kind now used in the fashion industry to calculate dress sizes. From the digital data, Patel printed the scan, and laser cut it onto life-size sheets of paper and perspex to create a large body-shaped template. From this, she drew and cut out impressions of the data before using the stencil to mark natural pigment onto sheets of cotton felt. Within the shipping container is a wad of cotton felt pieces which contain hidden drawings of bodies. Alongside these are postcards and maps that indicate the regions of Asia where free trading zones are present. The artist discovered that areas of these zones were represented as dotted lines on google earth. Like the bodies embedded into the cotton felt, the parts of the world where textile manufacture takes place are concealed.
Anti-cool, Puzzlers’ World, mixed media. Photos courtesy of Joel Chester-Fildes
Container/micronation 2 – Puzzlers’ World contains jigsaw maps from different parts of the world which artist – Anti-cool – has collected for the project since her fascination began with a jigsaw map of Britain. Some of the puzzles are vintage and several have been sourced from various countries and shipped to the UK where Anti-cool is based. Anti-cool makes links between the jigsaw map locations and the top ten migrant nationalities to the UK – something she researched for the exhibition due to her interest in migration and her own position as a Japanese immigrant. Opposite a wall of colourful and sometimes eccentric jigsaw maps in the shapes of recognisable nations, Anti-cool has installed the edges of a white and grey, pictureless 1800 piece puzzle. A performance artist, Anti-cool has begun to piece together the anonymous jigsaw map pieces, leaving a box of them for visitors to try to puzzle.
Chen Chieh-Jen, The Pusher, video. Photo courtesy of John Lynch
Container/micronation 3 – The Pusher, produced by prominent Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-Jen, displays an audio-video installation of people pushing against the wall of a shipping container or perhaps a large industrial door of a factory. All that is seen are the backs of people’s heads and shoulders wearing uniformed clothes, accompanied by the vibration of crunching steel as the faceless individuals endlessly push the wall back and forth, forming a kind of contemporary scene of Sisyphus.
Container/micronation 4 – The Contained Facility of Urhworm, created by The Cotard Syndicate (collaboration of US based neuroscientist Siddharth Ramakrishnan, UK based artist Toby Heys, and US artist Stefani Bardin) is a sound installation containing gentle noises that are both unpredictable and uncontrollably repetitive. Here, the container of these ‘urhworms’ represents a giant skull. The visitors are encouraged to stay inside with the doors closed for the duration of the recording until they are ready to cross the border back into the world beyond this insular brain. All the new pieces of work consider or contest the ways that we order or are ordered by the world around us, as citizens, visitors, workers, employers, tourists and biological beings. The borders we encounter are created and restricted by institutions – local, national and international. The shipping containers try to transcend them on some level, such as ignoring the direction of the white lines of a car parking space.
The exhibition closes at 4PM this Sunday 19th October 2014. It is open at weekends between 12 and 5 and by appointment. You can book a boat ride to a tour of the exhibition for Saturday 18th October http://darkborderdevelopers.com/