Crashing into the Future: Week #3

Crashing into the Future: Week #3

Artist Cinemas

Zhang Congcong, Element (clip), 2021.

March 8, 2021
Crashing into the Future: Week #3
Zhang Congcong, Element, 2021
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Join us on e-flux Video & Film for the online screening of Zhang Congcong’s Element (2021), the third installment of Crashing into the Future, on view from Monday, March 8 through Sunday, March 14, 2021 and featuring an interview with the filmmaker conducted by Cao Fei.

Crashing into the Future is a six-part program of films and interviews put together by Cao Fei. It is the fifth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film

Artist Cinemas presents Crashing into the Future 
Week #3: Monday, March 8–Sunday, March 14, 2021 
Zhang Congcong, Element, 2021
8 minutes

On an ordinary workday, three workers who do not know each other work on an invisible assembly line, all producing the same element. “In Element, workers don their machine-operator uniforms and go on long, aimless walks by the sea. They take in the ocean breeze and bask in the sun, reminiscent of the leisurely middle-class figures of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86). They are connected by a string of vague actions that can’t quite be called work. Here, Zhang deconstructs the legitimacy of labor and empties its content. Stage after stage, the production chain recalls a mysterious ritual, a whispered code.” (Cao Fei)

Excerpt from Zhang Congcong in conversation with Cao Fei
Translated by Mike Fu

Cao Fei (CF):
There are many female laborers who appear in your work. Can you talk about the physicality of production workers?

Zhang Congcong (ZC):
In many assembly lines, parts of workers’ bodies become components of the operation through mechanical and unceasingly repetitive actions. Their bodies are continuously subsumed in the process of production. The bodies of female laborers appear in my work because, in spite of their prevalence on the assembly line, women’s roles in production are often overlooked. But they are becoming ever more prominent in the structure of new industries.

In my other work Keeper (2020), I collaborated with a fitness instructor to create an aerobics routine based on the movements of workers in labor-intensive industries. These actions are mundane in the context of factory labor. This type of work doesn’t require heavy labor. The movements are simple and easy to learn. But these fragmented actions have actually weakened workers’ intellects; through the process of labor, workers’ bodies are remodeled for the requirements of the assembly line. Most of the fitness training and yoga classes that we, as consumers, are familiar with are led by women. The body imperceptibly disciplined by the process of production is also the body of the consumer. The relationship between capital and the body is rife with such contradictions.

Is the story in Element suggesting that workers are resisting a system? Or creating a new type of value? What do you hope to express through the workers?

The story of Element is actually quite simple. The workers are like screws in this massive steel factory, except they’re not laboring unconsciously. Through the internet, they’re very much aware of the world outside. However, the reality is that they won’t simply quit the factory because of this awareness—being also aware of the job security of heavy industries in northern China compared to the high turnover of light industries in the south, where they work. As a result, they are content with the status quo while at the same time they feel a kind of spiritual helplessness. 

I filmed three workers who hold different positions and seem to have nothing to do with each other. But I connect them through the substance that they collectively produce. Through the stages of production, inspection, and sale, they could be producing almost any substance, even something completely immaterial. This reveals something of the inner essence of the relationship between labor and the body.

Watch the film and read the full conversation here.

About the program  
Various signs around us suggest that we have reached a moment where the contradictions accumulated by our history can no longer be sustained. A sense of déjà vu takes hold. Once again, the uneasy organisms of this planet look up and gaze at the cosmos as they hastily crash into the future…

Crashing into the Future brings together a selection of six works by video artists from China born in the late 1980s and 1990s. Most of the featured artists studied or lived abroad for some time, and their artistic practices reflect their diverse influences. The works are presented under three thematic junctions—Monstrosity, Ghost Worker, and Cosmos in Flux—that, together, constitute a kind of rhizome wherein meaning is produced in the space between the nodes. 

Crashing into the Future is a program convened by Cao Fei as part of the series Artist Cinemas. It will run for six weeks from February 22 through April 5, 2021, screening a new film each week accompanied by an interview with the filmmaker(s) conducted by Cao Fei and invited guests.

About Artist Cinemas   
Artist Cinemas is a new e-flux platform focusing on exploring the moving image as understood by people who make film. It is informed by the vulnerability and enchantment of the artistic process—producing non-linear forms of knowledge and expertise that exist outside of academic or institutional frameworks. It will also acknowledge the circles of friendship and mutual inspiration that bind the artistic community. Over time this platform will trace new contours and produce different understandings of the moving image.

For more information, contact

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Artist Cinemas
March 8, 2021

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