What is the face of power? In the old world, blue and white collars indicated the hierarchy within an organization. In the new world, visual cues are less evident: you could be a waiter or entrepreneur, a house cleaner or lawyer, everything is leveled in Casual Friday bureaucracy. For the US and other parts of the Western world, re-industrialization seems a utopian solution to underemployment, increasing class disparity, and dying factory cities. It is a dream of a simpler world, one in which power relationships are paternalistic, visible, and negotiable – in which everyone has their place, everyone fits. But what if industry were to return?
In a series of paintings on paper and the video Machinist's Lament, Jen Liu proposes a series of masks designed for a future in which industrial production has been successfully brought back to the West. They will soothe the anxiety of transition from invisible to visible power, from outsourced to localized management. They will dispel any confusion about who is in charge. The stylistic origin is in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927), with figures that are neither abstract nor figurative, referencing art deco to Memphis, midcentury machinery diagrams to Cycladic sculpture. In Machinist’s Lament, alienation is a state that switches from the wearer of masks, to the woman who imagines the world as it could be: a world of industrial production ruled by women à la Monique Wittig’s novel Les Guérillères (1969).