(not) Made in China

Domo arigato Mr. Roboto! 


Belgian born Tuur Van Balen and his partner Revital Cohen have made their careers exploring what happens when technology and biology collide and the social, political and ethical implications of this juxtaposition we now live in. 

They met while studying Design Interactions under Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby at the Royal College of Art in London. After graduating in 2008, each began careers as solo artists but slowly began to collaborate on more and more projects together. So, in 2012, realizing their work was becoming increasingly ambitious and too complex for just one person to execute, the two decided to officially join forces and become one practice. Some of their more notable works include Van Balen's Pigeon D'Or which features pigeons who desecrate soap, Cohen's Artificial Biological Clock and their joint project Sterile

They have recently been experimenting with using design to explore the political implications of emerging technologies, specifically the global mass-manufacturing industry. One such series with this focus is, 'Give More to Gain More." For the project Van Balen and Cohen used alibaba.com to talk with Chinese manufactures from the Guangdong province in China (you know, the place where majority of the "Made in China" products are produced) about topics ranging from company ideologies to components' impact. They then pulled phrases from these conversations and constructed them into visual, industrial words of wisdom using aluminum and electronics. 

Van Balen and Cohen believe that the process of making art is as much a part of the artwork as the physical product and this project is particularly laden with that philosophy. They have taken the current global roles of laborer and inventor and reversed them. Here, the content has come from China and the labor was done in London. The Chinese manufacturers have given Van Balen and Cohen content such as "Customers are real people and real feeling" and "We have to work hard and work with our heart" and the designers have taken those words and assembled them into a product.  

The artworks are designed in such a way that you feel you are watching them put the piece together while you stand there. The phrase doesn't appear all at once, but instead, slowly lights up one word at a time as you try to discern which letters will light up with the others and guess what word will come next. 




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