One recurring image in Chen Chieh-jen's (
For Chen and the women holding it aloft, it's a symbol of something they've had taken from them and, in a larger context, taken from all of Taiwan. The factories that fuelled the nation's "economic miracle" from the late 1960s to the mid 1990s have disappeared -- closed as profit margins narrowed or else moved to neighboring countries with slimmer payrolls.
Factory is a 30-minute silent 16mm film set in an abandoned warehouse in Lienfu. The factory and its staff of hundreds of mostly female employees manufactured articles of clothing for over 30 years until it closed seven years ago. It sat empty and abandoned -- it's many tables, chairs collecting dust -- until Chen met several of the women who used to work there and asked them to participate in the project.
He re-established part of the factory for the film and had the women back working at a job most hadn't done since they were laid off years ago. Images of them working their old machines are interspersed with similar images made decades ago. Chen also makes liberal use of long tracking shots of two women dusting off their old chairs.
Astute followers of Chen's work might recognize the women -- they're the same two women that appeared in Chen's previous cinematic work, Lingchi -- Echoes of a Historical Photograph, which recreated on 16mm film a famous photograph of a convicted murderer being dismembered. He met the women during the filming of that project, which thematically used the convicted man's silent suffering to draw a parallel with the silent suffering of Taiwan's disenfranchised female workers.
"The ladies were very happy to help with this project," Chen told the Taipei Times, "Lingchi was pretty horrific and dusting off some chairs in their old factory didn't seem so bad!"
Viewers might wonder what several minutes of chair-dusting has to do with the workers' current plight, until all the chairs are lined up facing the camera. Next comes something of an epiphany as the old wooden chairs are juxtaposed against a shot of colorful new plastic chairs facing trading bourse screens. Chen's point suddenly becomes apparent; as the women's lives have changed so have their fortunes -- for better or worse. Chen graciously lets viewers decide that part for themselves.
Factory runs through Saturday, Jan. 31. IT Park is located on the second and third floor at 41 Yitong St. in Taipei (台北市伊通街41號). The gallery is closed on Sunday and Monday and open 2pm until 10pm all other days.