An Unknown Number

Project for the 2012 Shanghai Biennial
Shanghai, China

Jens Hoffmann invited me to be a part of the 9th Annual Shanghai Biennial. During a site visit to Shanghai this summer I was given a tour of the building that was being remodeled into the museum for the exhibition. The tour happened during lunch break for the construction workers who were working on the building. I was struck by the way that many of the workers took naps in the midst of the construction debris. It was hot and I’m sure they were very tired, so it made sense to grab a quick rest, but it created a strange contrast between the industrial scene and the very human act of sleeping. I took some photographs of the workers which almost look staged, but they are not. A series of these images are being projected life size as part of my project for the Biennial.

Through an interpreter I talked to a worker and asked him what he thought about working on an art museum building. He said he didn’t realize that the construction was for an art museum. I decided that it might be interesting to find out more about the workers and their thoughts on the building and art. So after I left China I asked Deng Liwen and Han Liya (assistants at the Biennial) to interview some of the workers and make a video so that we could show the results as part of my project.

While I was there I also asked if the workers would be invited to the Biennial exhibition opening. I was told they would not be, that it was likely they they would have moved on to another construction site possibly in another city. Since the labor of the construction workers is so important to making the Biennial possible I thought it would be nice to acknowledge them by listing all of their names as part of my project. I also asked that a special invitation be printed and given to all of the construction workers thanking them for their contribution, and inviting them to the opening of the Biennial.