Chen Chieh-jen
Factory, 2013
Super-16mm transferred to DVD, color, silent, single channel, loop, 31 min 09 sec
Courtesy of the artist
In the early 1980s the French historian Pierre Nora formulated the concept of "les lieux de mémoire": sites of memory that are simultaneously material, symbolic and functional, and not necessarily associated with specific topography, sites where memory is` crystallized and finds a refuge. In the lm made by Chen Chieh-jen such a site of memory is represented by the abandoned sewing factory in Lien Fu. In 1987, after the wartime martial laws were lifted, factories started closing down and their owners were leaving Taiwan in search of cheaper workforce, which resulted in multiple bankruptcies. This happened unexpectedly, investors were vanishing from the island, workers were left without means of subsistence, and no one had any intention to defend their rights. The doors of the Lien Fu factory closed forever. On 16 April 1996, three hundred women, who had worked no less than a third of their lives at this factory, found themselves on the street. In the next few years they tried to fight for their right to compensation: they appealed to the Labor Ministry, organized demonstrations and pickets, but all to no avail.

In 2002, Chen Chieh-jen met with the self-help group of former workers of the sewing factory and after a year of frequent talks with them he produced his film Factory. Like ghosts unable to find peace the ex-sewers returned to the factory building in order to repeat one more and last time their routine daily actions such as dusting the place, arranging chairs, adjusting their sewing machines. They performed their actions in silence – on the women's request the lm was silent as a symbol of their silent protest and a demonstration of their willpower and patience in defending their rights. After all these long years the factory came to be seen as a mirror reflecting the collective identity of the women, their common past and the joint experiences of trauma and struggle.

In his works Chen Chieh-jen describes the difficult 20th-century history of Taiwan with its dramatic upheavals such as the Japanese colonization, military dictatorship, and capitalist expansion when Taiwan became one huge factory for the production and export of goods. According to the artist, these changes of regimes traumatized collective memory to the point of obliterating and re-writing it. Having lapsed into historical amnesia the Taiwanese society lost ability to appraise their past and look forward to the future.

The film Factory, the same as Chen Chieh-jen's other films, is based on his accidental encounters with local communities, which turned out to be unexpectedly fruitful. They were often represented by marginalized groups of people, who have been pushed out of history and threatened with oblivion but not giving up their fight with adverse circumstances: stevedores, inmates of a leper colony, unemployed, and immigrants. The artist is aware of his engagement in cultural production as he chooses the form of direct communication with the lm characters during the shooting, creating an atmosphere of joint work and mutual education. For Chen Chieh-jen this way of building inter-personal relations is part of his campaign for preserving collective memory of the people of Taiwan.
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