“[For me,] the Assembly Line series is like a portal to dozens of unknown universes.”
Born 1973, Yongxing, Hunan. Lives and works in Shanghai
A longtime student of Taoism and the I Ching, Li Xiaofei believes the contemporary world is obsessed with rationality at the expense of imagination, artifice at the expense of nature. His ongoing Assembly Line project (2010– ) reflects on the interactions between these opposites—the yang and the yin of the age of mechanical production—through video interviews with factory workers. At the editing stage, he deliberately switches between “human, machine, human, machine,” he says, “provoking a sense of reality that is objectively accurate yet at the same time imaginary”. The results are filled with paradoxes. Humans are the opposite of machines in almost every respect, yet on the assembly line they often seem to merge. In A Foreign Boss (2010), paper passes endlessly over a series of spinning spools under the gaze of a woman whose only movement is an occasional small shift of her right hand. The machines are sometimes beautiful in their orderliness, and their remorseless stamping and whirring has an almost lifelike rhythm, while the people who operate them can seem inhumanly robotic. They start, stop, and monitor the machines, but the machines are also their masters, dictating their movements and the rhythms of their days. The products of an assembly line are identical, standardised clones, yet the videos introduce the workers as unique individuals, with unique motives and aspirations. These include enjoying the modern urban lifestyle, which depends on the output of millions of factories like their own.