Mark Curran - The Breathing Factory
November 11th 2003.
From, The Breathing Factory © Mark Curran 2006
The ill-defined region where I live - Upstate and Western New York - is an economic wasteland characterized by de-industrialization, with resulting high levels of un- and under-employment, incredible concentrations of urban poverty, and widespread poverty in the rural countryside too. All that pre-dates our recent economic collapse. Among the 'good news' lately has been the announcement that a multinational firm - Advanced Micro Devices Inc (AMD) - has agreed to build a chip manufacturing plant north of Albany. The promise is that the plant will employ 1400+ people. The firm already has collected $1.2 billion in incentives from NY State and is trying to squeeze further, even larger sales tax breaks from the county. And, as befits the asymmetrical relationship between a multinational firm and a developing region of the world, the new plant will be concerned solely with manufacturing - all design and development functions will remain in Germany.
All of that leads me to an intriguing, (relatively) recent project by Mark Curran, called The Breathing Factory. As Curran explains, the project "critically addresses the role and representation of labour and global labour practices in Ireland's newly industrialised landscape as manifest in manufacturing and technology. Global industrial practices are characterised by . . . transient spaces as capital moves when and as required. In such an ephemeral and global context, [he] focuses specifically upon the Hewlett-Packard Manufacturing and Technology Campus, part of a cluster formation of multinational technology complexes, in Leixlip in the east of Ireland." this is, in other words, precisely the sort of production facility we are bribing AMD to build here in New York.
Curran makes clear - it is part of his reflexive working method - that completing the project was problematic for several reasons:
Mark Curran spent 9 months negotiating access to the Hewlett-Packard Technology Campus. The project began in April 2003 and was produced over a 20 month period. Each site visit was pre-scheduled and cleared by security and he was accompanied on site at all times. All material collated was vetted and Curran has made this 'policing process' visible in the work, as a comment on the way that global capital investment is a highly managed and protected process. The Breathing Factory has been developed as a cross-disciplinary project involving the application of ethnographic practices and techniques. Curran conducted interviews with a range of staff including the Director of Government and Public Affairs, a Logistics Coordinator, the Vice-President and General Manager, a Production Supervisor, a Clean Room Supervisor and a Health and Safety Inspector, among others. Transcribed excerpts from these interviews have been incorporated into the final installation and publication. Curran has also produced a series of photographs and digital video work surveying this new and transient landscape.The fluidity of ownership, the high levels of secrecy, and highly asymmetrical control render the high tech production plants quite creepy - despite their sanitized appearance. In many ways Curran's work puts me in mind of Richard Ross's Architecture of Authority - about which I've commented here before. I have not seen the Curran exhibition but am intrigued to find out how he incorporates his interviews and other text into it and the book.*
The Breathing Factory is showing through the end of October as part of 'Septembre de la Photographie 08' in Lyon, France. You can find the particulars here.
* The Breathing Factory (Edition Braus and Belfast Exposed Photography, 2006) ISBN # 3-89904-216-6.