MY OBSESSION WITH THIS STORY BEGAN MORE THAN 10 YEARS AGO…
…when the Bodies Exhibit arrived with great fanfare in New York’s South Street Seaport. You couldn’t escape the ads. On subways. On buses. On billboards. Skinned and rubberized and plasticized cadavers, wielding footballs and frisbees, crouching in yoga poses. Arched like expert ballerinas. Promising you an educational experience unlike any you’d seen before.
I couldn’t escape the feeling that each of these faces and figures looked Asian to me. In a culture where I rarely saw myself or anyone like me represented, here I suddenly felt splayed all over the place, these strange and skinned versions faces I felt like I knew, faces I couldn’t shake. Before I became a filmmaker, I was a journalist. So naturally, I started to dig.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2016, a decade later, I found the same banners flying. From street lamps. In storefronts. The same lines queuing, at forty to fifty bucks a head, the same exit through the gift shop, the same little sign posted out front: The Bodies exhibit can not account for the provenance of our specimens. There’s a longer version of it on their web- site, under DISCLAIMER. But all you need to take away from that bullshit legalese is that these people...
Never gave permission.
For their bodies to be rubberized. To be monetized. To be displayed. To be industrialized. To be shipped all over the world. To line some strangers pockets with cash. So what’s my take? To me, this is absurd. To me, this is reality that defies imagination. To me, this level of cynical consumerism and capitalistic savagery is surreal, and almost funny in its cruelty and indifference.
My take is a black comedy about a big gray area. A surreal look at something real. So where do these bodies come from? And who, exactly, are they working for? And why? A dark and surreal workplace comedy about our jobs, our bodies, our identities, and who owns what...
In the larger scheme of things.
Complicity is a big part of my work. I’m definitely motivated, as a person, as an artist, to explore personal guilt as well as personal responsibility. I’ve heard the horror stories of Foxcomm, the iPhone factory. Yet I own an iPhone. I am compromised. But I suspect we all are. Because the system is designed to compromise us. And we opt in, for different reasons, reasons I won’t judge. But once you’re in that kind of gray area, it’s a fucking tangle to get out. Isn’t it?
It’s easier to look the other way. It’s designed for that, too. I know what its like to have a ethically sketchy just for the pay. I know what its like to feel bad about what you do for work but feeling like you don’t have a choice in that moment. I know what it’s like to look the other way in the face of something you or your loved ones desperately need.
So who is to care about women like this, making choices like that, for products like these, if not me?
Thanks for reading,