In a fascinating piece covering everything from corporate license to bootlegging, Dazed Digital explores the world of the Chinese-art phenomenon Shanzhai in an interview with Bidoun magazine's creative director, Babak Radboy — and it's enough to give you a serious head trip. Shanzhai, for the uninitiated, is essentially a movement that embraces Chinese counterfeit and pirated brands as a sort of rebellion against big business. It even has its own biennal (two years running, for that matter). "It’s this conversation between this massive production facility and late capitalism’s brand aura and intellectual property...It's kind of a punk in China," Radboy explains.
The interesting thing about the Shanzhai movement and the people — urban fashionphiles like the artist Wu Ting Ting and rural factory workers, alike — who embrace it is that it's not based in cheaply made, low-quality goods sold off for a racked-up price (though, that's what most would associate with the term "counterfeit"). It's actually about the dark, ironic humor involved in repurposing the skills gained while manufacturing iPhones and Prada bags to make things like HiPhones and Dada bags: Fully functional models that actually offer some kind of agency in a world where, or as Radboy puts it, "you know how much they’re selling for and you know that no matter how long you work at that factory, you will never ever have this product."
The medium is the message, and yet, there is no message in this new form of pop art with a darkly political twist. There's a kind of cheapness here that Radboy says is, in a strange way, even approaching couture in the looser sense of the word. Whatever you make of it, there's no doubt that this is a very compelling glimpse into the Chinese fashion psyche, something most of us gloss over and ignore when glancing at the tiny "made in China" label on our
Dada Prada bags. (Dazed Digital)