by Brian Hioe
Photo credit: FoxCarn & the Betel Store
Last week, New Bloom caught up by e-mail with Ian Rowen, whom we previously interviewed about his experiences as one of the few individuals to participate in both the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Movement regarding the upcoming FoxCarn & the Betel Store project, the China and Taiwan regional project for Burning Man 2015.
The project will feature “worker” participants drawn from Burning Man attendees, who will make Apple parody products as part of an interactive art installation in which participants will experience working in an electronics factory meant to draw parallel to the real-life Foxconn, complete with a robotic overseer arm overhead.
The installation draws from both the Taiwanese-owned but China-based company Foxconn, which manufactures much of the key electronic components in Apple projects under inhumane labor conditions, as well as the Taiwanese tradition of betelnut beauties who are a common sight in the Taiwanese countryside. As described by organizers, this is meant to call attention to commodity fetishism in contemporary capitalism as well as the role of gendered labor.
More details can be found at FoxCarn & the Betel Store’s Kickstarter campaign, which runs until August 1st. FoxCarn & the Betel Store will take place at Burning Man 2015, which runs from August 30 to September 7 at Black Rock City.
Brian Hioe: Can you talk a little bit about how the FoxCarn project got started as a regional Burning Man project for Taiwan? You mentioned this coming out of past Burning Man projects from Taiwan.
Ian Rowen: FoxCarn & the Betel Store is the third in a series of regional projects from Taiwan and/or China to the main Burning Man event in Black Rock City, Nevada. The first was Enlightenment, an eighteen-foot tall meditating man. The second was the Taiwan Temple Market. The team for FoxCarn is largely composed of members from these past two projects plus the organizers of Dragon Burn, Shanghai’s regional event, and some other friends. This team also includes a number of diaspora Taiwanese and Chinese, and Taiwan and China-based expats.
BH: How about the team involved? Who are they and how do they add to the project?
IR: A few of the players in our project:
Nathan Melenbrink is our lead architect and robot designer. He, Jiyoo Jye, and Tiffany Cheng (Taiwanese-American) are all students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Nathan designed the 2014 Dragon Burn effigy.
Kenny Yu, from Hong Kong, is our lead graphic designer.
Michael Huang, Taiwanese/Chinese-American, freelance designer and fire lead on Enlightenment, is co-managing.
Jen Childs and Nick Kothari, Dragon Burn organizers based in Shanghai, are leading up China-side sourcing along with Elaine Kang. They are also providing additional design help.
DJ Furth, Beijing-based filmmaker, cut our Kickstarter video.
Jimi Moe, Spring Scream co-founder and member of our Taiwan Temple Market last year, is helping with materials production.
Ty Chen, founder of dance troupe Luxy Boyz, will choreograph our “product launch” on Tuesday night, during which I’ll be putting on a turtleneck and wire rim glasses for our launch of: iSwag: Our most personal swag yet. Tagline: “This changes nothing!”
There are more. As for me, I’ve put together and continue managing the concept and the team, and have written all our copy.
BH: FoxCarn, of course, is aimed at form of social commentary. First, can you elaborate on how FoxCarn is commentary on the relationship between Taiwan and China? Second, what is FoxCarn saying more broadly about commodity fetishism in contemporary capitalism?
IR: FoxCarn shows how Taiwan is implicated in China’s economy as investor, manager, and mediator between the Chinese party-state land masters, Chinese labor, and global capital. The design of the space, with the FoxCarn factory and the adjacent Betel Store, also in some ways reflects cross-Strait economic geography.
In general, the piece takes aim at commodity fetishism and capitalism more broadly, and is meant to give participants a visceral reminder that their objects of desire don’t materialize from thin air, without real human and environmental costs. In this way, we intend to playfully “unalienate labor”.
BH: I also want to ask about the aspect of the betelnut beauties. This is something distinctively Taiwanese and isn’t something which has any direct relation to FoxConn that you’ve incorporated into FoxCarn. What is the role of the betelnut beauties in regards to FoxCarn?
IR: FoxCarn is the production side of our project, while the Betel Store is the sales and marketing side. The Betel Store satirizes Apple, and adds a uniquely Taiwanese sense of place that highlights the erotic imaginaries that drive so much of consumer product marketing. Instead of the Apple Store’s “genius” salesperson, our sales staff, male, female or otherwise, will be a “beauty”. By, if you will, “decommodifying” the oft-fetishized betelnut beauty, our project also plays with desire as a motive force of capitalism, not just in the sales of stuff, but in the deployment of the human body. So we’ll swank up our otherwise sleekly minimal Betel Store with gaudy pink lighting, and our staff will wear provocative Taiwanese/Chinese uniforms, including Betel-branded dudou.
BH: Lastly, I want to ask about your target audience at Burning Man. Who are you seeking to influence through FoxCarn & the Betel Store? You mentioned FoxCarn & the Betel Store has a very central location at Burning Man, for example.
IR: FoxCarn & the Betel Store are in a premier, highly-trafficked set of tents located right at the base of the Burning Man, the center of the whole event. The Man Base is meant to manifest the year’s art theme, and in recent years has also been a showcase for the globalization of the event’s culture. This year the theme is Carnival of Mirrors, so they’ll be sent up like a Carnival Midway, hence our name, FoxCarn. Burning Man is a big place—with 70,000 people and thousands of projects, there’s too much for one person to see. But pretty much everyone makes it to the Man Base, so this is a perfect spot to interact with the very wide variety of creative and influential people that compose the city’s population. Given Burning Man’s increasingly broad impact beyond its temporary urban confines—and with most major press organs in attendance—we also look forward to our message, and our “goods,” spreading far and wide. We’re also building our online presence and community. Of course, supporting our Kickstarter is a great place to start.