On Friday, May 7, the performance artist 坚果兄弟 (nut brothers) spoke at Handshake 302 about his recent piece, “30 Occupations”. 坚果兄弟 specializes in extended performances of absurd situations. He especially enjoys (and yes, the word is “enjoys”) creating pieces that blur the boundaries between art and everyday and thus highlight the delicate balance required to maintain plausible fictions such as “work is meaningful” or “art is special”. Thus, he tends to work with none artists in everyday spaces, where the “audience” that gathers may or may not realize it is a performance piece.
“30 Occupations” began in late February when 坚果兄弟 used an agent to register the company “Shenzhen Pointless, Inc (深圳市无意义有限公司)”. Once Pointless was official, he hired 30 people to work for him every day of April. Each day worker was paid 100 yuan to do something pointless–clap one hundred times for a cockroach, say I love you under water, or take selfies in the bathroom, for example. One person was hired to convince people he wasn’t crazy, another was hired to count the hair on his legs. I participated as a work boss and brought a day worker with me to take apart and put together and take apart and put together a cell phone. For our participation, I claimed 80 yuan and the day worker received 20.
Recently I have become aware of art projects that explore working in Shenzhen. As with “30 Occupations”, the pieces focus on time and the work day, intentionally occupying “productive” time with “pointless” activities. In April, for example, Liu He curated “8 Hours”, where he locked individuals in 302 with a bottle of water from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For Liu He, it mattered that the participant was locked in and then, during discussions, what sense of time was produced without cell phones and schedules.
So, today I’m thinking about working conditions in Shenzhen and concomitant representations of this process. Thirty years ago when Shenzhen introduced experiments with finding one’s own job, working overtime, and being paid for what one did (ordinary capitalist practices), these experiments rocked Socialist employment practices. Young people came to Shenzhen because they wanted to work under different conditions from Socialism and capitalist practices sounded like an alternative.
It’s a Weberian moment: just as Americans have been forced to live in the cages wrought by Puritan experiments, so now young migrants and second generation Shenzheners are being forced to live in the employment cages established through Reform. And like young Americans, many young Shenzheners are starting to ask, “Seriously, what’s the point?”
Images from “30 Occupations”, curtesy of 坚果兄弟. Images from the salon, mine.