480 Minutes

Zhang Peili


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40 channel video, LED monitors, sewing machine (colour, silent)
dimensions variable
In ‘480 Minutes’ Zhang Peili’s multiple cameras are trained on seamstresses at work in a garment factory who are unaware they are being recorded. A real sewing machine of the same type used by the women is placed before the screen, described by art writer Iona Whittaker in ‘Randian’ as ‘a skilful transposition of tangible reality alongside its recorded image’.
The concept of time is an essential underlying concern throughout Zhang Peili’s oeuvre. ‘The notion of ‘the scene or space’ is another unavoidable element embodied in works created around 2008. ‘480 Minutes’ is part of a series works examining how a constructed scene affects the fulfillment of a video work. It was created in the context of a series of European boycotts of Chinese textiles. However, the traces and evidence associated with real social events are deliberately erased from the work. Even with 40 screens showing busy working women, the real scene of the factory space is absent and unknown. With an absence of background sound, a firm understanding of the ‘event’ or ‘fact’ depicted by the video becomes ambiguous. The sewing machine, isolated from its original place and the worker who operated it, is the only ‘real’ object associated with the filmed reality. Perhaps, ‘480 Minutes’ stands as mute testimony to the labour of these workers and symbolises the dramatic social and economic changes that resulted in southern China becoming known as ‘the world’s factory’. There are suggestions of the ubiquity of surveillance – and not just in China – with CCTV cameras exerting a Panopticon-like control by unseen managers over every single minute of an eight-hour, 480-minute working day.
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