Resident Video is a monthly series that provides exclusive access to short films from emerging artists. This month, we bring you Chen Chen Yu‘s The Fall (advance copy).
“There’s no end to what you can do when you don’t give a f*ck about a particular group of people. You can do anything… even today, how do we have this amazing micro-technology? Because the factory where they’re making these they’re jumping off the f*cking roof because it’s a nightmare.” – Louis CK.
The stories of Foxconn workers in Chen Chen Yu The Fall (advanced copy) seem like they’re out of a George Orwell penned sequel to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. The Foxconn factories featured may project a more sanitary look than those in Sinclair’s classic, but their workers are exploited and abused all the same. Overworked, underpaid, and treated like replaceable gears in one giant machine, the workers in The Fall (advance copy) have their humanity beaten out of them, so that the supply of digital technologies can be kept high and costs low.
For those of us who grew up during and after the decline of American industry, it’s important to note that the kind of manufacturing jobs that so many Americans once had in the 20th century didn’t just disappear. They were off-shored to places without humane labor laws, strong unions, and regulation. Where the market is free, and workers… less so. And even if such a place rests on the other side of the globe, it still exists, and it is still happening.
The Fall (advance copy), using the same digital aesthetics of the products Foxconn manufacturers, is not only a gripping and pointed look into the company and its injustices, but the film also leads a trail back to Apple and other western corporations, as well to the viewer, who very well might be watching it on a laptop made in one of their factories.
We’re just as accountable.
We interviewed Chen Chen Yu about the film.
There are some striking parallels between The Fall (advance copy) and Hito Steyerl’s In Free Fall – both films focus on airplanes and their complex and weird intersections with contemporary technology, entertainment, and labor politics. In a sense, your film can be seen as a continuation or advancement of both Steyerl’s content and filmmaking style, while never being redundant or inauthentic. How do you see your film in relation to Steyerl’s?
Yes, Steyerl’s works, both her films and words have been great inspiration to me. I was trying to find another analysis from this phenomenon or an extraction from its digital remains. But this extraction feels almost too dehumanized, something like rare metal mining, e-waste recycling, labor exploitation, or big data analyzing? So I hoped to approach it from more human or more empirical ways. From both the interviews of the workers and my own experience and impression with Foxconn.
There’s one element in Steyerl’s In Free Fall I really enjoyed. She used chapters “Before Crash”, “After Crash”, and maybe there’s “During Crash”, to show the courses of events and a better causal connection from one to another. And of course it is also a very humorous take on the mainstream action or catastrophe film style, montage of causes and effects. Through this, her film kind of keeps reminding us these’s no clear order in time between these intertanglements. In this sense, although The Fall (advance copy) is quite a continuation from Hito’s work, the materials I collected and edited are not quite a sequel nor a prequel, or maybe they are both. Probably there’re some chapter marks in my head while making it, like “after human” and “before nonhuman”, or “before the re-enactment” and “after the representation”.
The Fall (advance copy) is very much a political act. What is extremely important is that your film helps the viewer map an unfamiliar area of neo-liberalism – something that even the people who consume Foxconn’s products are unaware of. This is especially important because you’re not only dealing with the effects of global capitalism but also with the effects of the digital revolution, reminding us that the “digital” still has very real, very material, and very human consequences. While mapping these territories, what was most surprising to you? Did you learn anything unexpected or make any unintentional connections through the production process?
I mean, we basically have been exposed with so much information already about these social issues in daily basis, through news or social medias. While collecting the materials, I was dealing with many familiar things under certain contexts, but having a hard time to map out their actual relationships to each other. Like you said, these territories are very complex. A video advertisement for the mobility of digital revolution became an advocate in establishing neo-liberal market policies, or the charts of production sustainability are copied and pasted onto the production flow charts under the construction of global capitalism, and so on, we live in a landscape very difficult to navigate. In the sense of navigation between these territories, I only could use comparison for the research and production of this project, finding their relativities.
For instance, I was raised in Tucheng District in Taiwan, where Foxconn’s headquarter is located. I have experienced the rapid changing of Tucheng Industrial District but like most of people who are concerned about Apple’s contractor, I mostly tried to understand the situation through screens. While researching online about Foxconn’s working condition and its production chains, I spent a half month both in Shenzhen, China and Tucheng, experiencing the environmental differences of Foxconn’s headquarter and its mega factory overseas. Before making the trip to Shenzhen, although I knew it’s a gigantic factory, I still expected seeing something relatively temporal comparing with its headquarter. However, Foxconn’s constellation factories became something more permanently and physically solid, and its headquarters is rather politically stable. The experience from the trip really helped with the project’s ideas about the exhaustion of establishing a grounding level. Of course, finding the grounding level is quite a metaphorical and rhetorical question, but at the same time very empirical through the material practices.
And yes, there is a constant reminder call in The Fall (advance copy) about the “digital”. The holder for the digital data, cellphones, computers, hard drives, their transmissions, and so on, all that are very material. In the film, we can see how much similarity shared by commodities, human bodies, and their digital representations, a constant distribution and deterioration. However, there’s a heavy faith being placed onto this construction. While editing, I was quite shocked by how much video chanting in the same fashion for this faith, repeating again and again.
You play with the idea of detachment on multiple levels throughout The Fall (advance copy). It is most evident in your treatment of the personal narratives from Foxconn employees. There seems to be a desire to keep the viewer at distance from subject, while simultaneously bringing them in closer by “humanizing” the situation. This is in opposition to devices used in mainstream documentary, where viewers are driven to connect with subjects through tight close ups and clear engagement. Why did you decide to approach these scenes the way you did?
I guess the very first reason is to show the “can not show”. I didn’t have access to go into Foxconn’s factory or shoot the workers at the first place. That kind of forced me to figure out another strategy for storytelling. Also, following the heritages and debates in the history of documentary making, re-enactment is a way to break the authenticity and the allegorical storytelling. But through the project was making progress, and most of my engagements with this subject matter were done with a remote distance, detachment and perceivability became something more significant in the making. The technologies of visual representation and reproduction by mass media create some sort of visually perceivable and emotional attachable quality, which is something I’m really interested in. I thought playing with the idea of detachment might help with adding other perspectives about the perceivability.
I was very inspired by the filmmaker and video installation artist Harun Farocki. In his words, “What is perceptible respects remains simultaneously imperceptible in others, but this im/perceptible is not random: it has specific political causes and consequences for specific instances of production and reception.” In the production process, I was trying to combine the in/authentic fabricated representation with the mass media footage, but at the same time, in your word, keep them very humanized. I was hoping this kind of strategy could reflect our relationship with the image representation in our techno-social environment, a distanced attachment slipping in-between perceivable and imperceivable. I guess another reason was playing with the idea of stability, either workers’ relationship with the environment or their representation with other image layers. But it was a happy accident about that floating quality, from my amateur After Effects skill, which fits the topic very well. I was really happy with the outcome.
Our contemporary moment is very obviously image saturated. Not only is the consumption and production of images wildly increasing – according to a Cisco white paper, in 2019 it will take an individual over 5 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks each month – but the tools we use to create and distribute images are growing as well. We’re no longer dealing with just the materiality of celluloid or magnetic tape, but of a world where network technology is combined with advancements in machine learning and digital video, creating very powerful and smart image production systems. Are there any new technologies or systems of image production that you are particularly interested in at the moment, or want to have a chance to explore further?
You kind of mentioned it for me already. I do feel very interested, also confused about, the proliferation and transmission of images. And the images are produced so fast that I don’t really know how to identify with them. Instead, I rather feel just washed by them or dance with them.
I kind of got lost after making this film but I guess what I want to explore further is something related to the machine learning, which are heavily based on the image analysis techniques. I probably should make a video about me making trance videos and having the machine analyze them.
For more about Chen Chen Yu, visit his website. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Resident Video series. While the films are no longer available, the interviews remain. Forever.