I had the opportunity this week to see inside a local factory on the outskirts of Shanghai, specialising in the production of large sculptural works. Some metal, some fibreglass finished to look like metal, some stone, and nearly all of them copies of someone else’s art. Lining the factory driveway I saw The Venus de Milo, a lifesize Confucius (the original is in the courtyard of the Confucius Temple in Shanghai), Michaelangelo’s David, and an imposing Marx and Engels, just exactly like the original in Fuxing Park.
This is not the place for a lengthy discussion on the working conditions of the factory hands of Shanghai; or on the inability to police copyright violations in China. On the day of our unannounced visit, rather than the frantic bullied workers’ conditions I expected, the pace of work there seemed very relaxed, to say the least. Everyone worked with a cigarette in their mouths, and there was a lot of standing and thinking before actual work was started, and lots of breaks for discussion and more standing, thinking and smoking. I noticed a few workers napping in corner after the daily provided lunch.
The most interesting bits and pieces were found lying all over the shed and outside it, pieces of discarded or half-finished sculpture, amongst all the factory detritus. I loved a little seated figure in clay lying on top of the scrap metal pile, and a giant pair of Buddha hands, one lying outside with the rubbish bins and tin cans, and the matching hand eventually discovered nestled amongst the angle grinders and extension cords.
I would have rescued them and taken them to a new home, but it’s pretty difficult to manage the subway weighed down by a giant hand. Another time perhaps.