Gloss (2019) forms part of a practice-led research MFA thesis which was undertaken at UNSW Art & Design. The project focuses on the discourse surrounding shanzhai (Chinese counterfeiting of Western brands) through a written dissertation and a large-scale multimedia installation titled Gloss. Shanzhai has been perceived by some as a symbol of resistance through its associations with grassroots innovation and irreverence for copyright. Others claim that there are limitations to the subversive potential of shanzhai in the context of contemporary Chinese neoliberalism, which is complicated by a strong state-market alliance. This thesis considers these contradictory narratives of shanzhai, exploring the central question: How can artistic practice employ shanzhai strategies to critically examine myths about creativity and ownership in the global rise of China?
The project’s theoretical framework draws on the writings of Laikwan Pang, Aihwa Ong and Jane Park, as well as the creative projects of Shanzhai Biennial, Fatima Al Qadiri, and Stephanie Syjuco. Building on these rich conversations in diaspora studies and artistic practice, Gloss explores the productive potential of piracy, mimicry and mistranslation, which are conceptualised in this project as strategies of “shanzhai style.” Highlighting intimacies between representation, technology and power, this thesis aims to raise important questions about today’s creative economies – how they intersect with race, class, gender and nation, and their potential to morph and transmute along the rogue flows of capital.
Gloss is a work that continues to mutate and transform across virtual and physical locations. The images on this page are taken from the project's iteration as a retail installation in The Project Space, Cement Fondu, March 7 - April 7, 2019. (Photos by Tim da-Rin)