Observations on the world of commodities
published in: The Mix, Issue No. 15, May 2008
As I left the S-Bahn on a late Saturday evening at the beginning of March with my broken small bicycle, I wanted to take a cab but was lacking the required loose cash. In front of the cash machine a long queue was already waiting – as it was Saturday night – and likewise behind me there were already three guys who had bow ties attached to themselves for going out and actually looked like the noisy mob in the trailer of Antonioni’s Blow up, Andrew 3000 of Outkast and Kanye West at the same time. They were in their mid-twenties and standing behind me and wanted to know if I really was wearing Bapesta-sneakers of A Bathing Ape and where did I get them. It was neither in the hard to find shop in Tokyo, London or New York but in a market hall in Beijing that
I had bought the light-blue-black-white-yellow pair covered with fragments of comics which imitated the eighties Nikes Air Force 1 including the sta-swoosh. Naturally, it had not been easy to negotiate their price without Pokertalent and the saleslady knew the original price and intended to raise it via small talk questions. Finally I bought them for 20 € and sped on through fake Burberry coats, the American and Russian customers, various iPhones, Louis Vuitton and Gucci handbags which are to be chosen from the catalogue and then get brought up from the storage in the basement. The Bapesta-sneakers from Tokyo belong to the less frequently copied products. But maybe they were not even copied but glued together in the same factory after manufacturing ended. Or the black-market is diversifying. Just like the Chinese sweatshops that spread topographically in Calabria, the area around Naples.
The Beijing artist Lu Hao who at the same time of my sneaker shopping was exhibiting in the gallery with the promise of revolution in its name, “Beijing Commune“. Sporting purple gleaming jogging pants and golden sneakers he was standing in his exhibition and together with his gallery owner as interpreter was explaining his latest series of paintings to a team of German journalists. On silk, the traditional Chinese fabric, he had monothematically painted the range of goods: colourful piles of jeans stacked on top of each other, suspended bathing sandals and socks, cash point and printing hardware on shelves, plastic boxes with blank CDs, eatables, piled up sneaker designs, and exterior views of narrowly tagged small shopping streets with their neon signs above the shops’ doorways. “Landscape“ was the title of the exhibition, what was on display were consumption landscapes with mountains of goods. Just as in his portraits of both sides of chang’an street in the center of Beijing which he had drawn in a traditional style on paper rolls that were shown at last summer’s documenta, in his new work Western company logos like Pizza Hut, Kodak, D&G, KFC, Budweiser or TDK also appeared between Chinese characters, tokens of the presence of the Western market in China and the expansion of the Western market into a country ruled by Communism. The only difference was that the logo of some Italian fashion brand was hanging amongst many different pairs of jeans on a clothes rail and it is to be assumed that it is a fake brand, whereas the Pizza Hut-logo on a modern storefront was probably mounted by the American chain itself. The Dubaiesque shopping malls which get opened in Beijing in increasing numbers, like „THE PLACE“, the documentary working artist did not choose as a subject. Without commenting on them, Luo Hao has provided clues about the informal business structures as well as the companies operating in their interests in his depictions of the world of commodities. One can compare it to the cultural heritage, the temples; every few years they get rebuilt in the same place and still retain their authority. Just as Confucius wrote before, in Chinese culture there is no difference between an original and its copy. And neither for the three friends at Berlin/Ostbahnhof, as what gets recognized must be real no matter if it is an original or a fake.