Over the holiday period, I came across articles, documentation and insights into the production of reproductions in China, specifically that of art sculptures, and Christmas decorations. People make an assumption that most things, most products that we use and come across in our daily lives, are made in China, and they’d probably be right. China is widely known as a copycat culture, a culture of fakes and reproductions, including in the contemporary arts, such as the famous Dafen the village of fake masterpieces...but largely for smaller and mass-produced products.
The first example comes from female Italian photographer Chiara Goia who recently went to Dong Cheng in China, a village whose activity revolves around the reproduction of more or less fake sculptures. ‘In this context, the creators of these “fakes” assume a marginal position and then almost disappear behind the “real” authors that they copy. Even more oddly, they end up blending with the same reproductions they have been moulding and portraying.
“Reproductions of something that is already reproducing something else” – Chiara Goia
Chiara‘s work raises the question as to what is “fake”? And who is an “artist”? Two questions that are often asked in relation to art and artworks coming from China. Furthermore, what are the boundaries between art-craft-reproduction-fake?
At the same time, as seeing Chiara’s work, I came across the recent Guardian article ‘Santa’s Real Workshop: the Town in China that makes the world’s Christmas decorations’ that focused on the city of Yiwu, 300km South of Shanghai, recently christened ‘China’s Christmas village’. It is home to 600 factories that collectively produce over 60% of all the world’s Christmas decorations and accessories, from glowing fibre-optic trees to felt Santa hats. The factory staff are mainly migrant labourers, working 12 hours a day for a maximum of £200 to £300 a month, and it turns out they’re not entirely sure what Christmas is…which isn’t that surprising in my opinion.
‘Packaged up in plastic bags, their gleaming red snowflakes hang alongside a wealth of other festive paraphernalia across town in the Yiwu International Trade Market, aka China Commodity City, a 4m sq m wonder-world of plastic tat. It is a pound shop paradise, a sprawling trade show of everything in the world that you don’t need and yet may, at some irrational moment, feel compelled to buy. There are whole streets in the labyrinthine complex devoted to artificial flowers and inflatable toys, then come umbrellas and anoraks, plastic buckets and clocks. It is a heaving multistorey monument to global consumption, as if the contents of all the world’s landfill sites had been dug-up, re-formed and meticulously catalogued back into 62,000 booths.’
This article immediately reminded me of the video work ‘Scattered Scenes of Mei Creek’ by contemporary Chinese artist Chen Hangfeng, which you can view below. He embarked on a trip to discover Mei Creek’s history, a place that now produced over 50% of China’s Christmas exports…obviously alongside Yuwi. Inspired by this visit, he went on to journey to the home of Christmas, Finland, where he travelled to Rovaniemi to meet Santa Claus in the official Christmas office. The artist was delighted to meet with the man himself and was able to ask some personal questions about the daily life of Santa Claus.
‘According to the old family book, this village has more than 1000 years of history, which can be traced back to Song Dynasty. Numerous important scholars and literati were originally from this village, and the poems they wrote were included in the family book. A set of them described 10 pictorial sceneries along the Mei Creek. ‘Stone horse carrying the mist’ and ‘Snow covering the bamboo forest next to Mei Creek’ are two beautifully crafted scenes. Time has passed, the water of Mei creek is still running, but those sceneries are long gone. They have now been transformed into sceneries of white foam, red ball, green belt and many ornamental pieces you see today. In fact, this village now produces more than 50% of China’s Christmas exports. All of them are handmade; some of the ornaments are designed and improvised by the villagers themselves, even though most of the tools they use to make these Christmas ornaments are farming related objects. Magically, they managed to mix and match these farming tools perfectly for the production!’