Mr Democracy

A written constitution for the UK (made in China)

  • Welcome to Mr Democracy, the story of a British artist who set off to get a written constitution for the UK made.
    Understanding the changing balance of power in the world, and with a nod to Britain’s ‘democratic’ ventures across the world, he chose to get it written in China, and ship it back to the UK.
    Read more under 'about' and in the many blog entries.

Posts Tagged ‘Made in China’


Posted by mrdemocracy on 17,09,2008

The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful, apart from discovering I’d left my coat in Hong Kong, and arriving in Terminal 5 to be harrased by Airport security – the bottle I bought after passing security in Hong Kong (in duty free), had to go in the hold due to the restrictions on liquids. OK, but the staff should somehow be trained in dealing with travellers who’ve been awake for days being asked to do ridiculous things – if it was good enough for Hong Kong airport staff and the BA flight in, it should be good enough for the domestic hop up to Manchester.

Straight on to the exhibition. The exhibition is at The Royal Standard, an ‘artist-led studio, gallery and social workspace based in Liverpool’. I first visited exhibitions of theirs in Arena studios, and then later in their namesake pub, The Royal Standard. The studio member’s rent subsidizes the rent of the gallery space, and they invigilate the exhibitions for free. They have spent much of the last six months being told they could move in ‘next week’ to a buidling in the ‘Baltic triangle’, near Greenland Street. In the summer they moved into a new building 10 minutes walk north of Moorfields, about 15 minutes walk from Lime Street, and have made the ground floor into an amazing exhibition space, with similar standards as a high end commercial gallery in London (reminded me of Modern Art in Vyner Street). The Royal Standard is run by a team of 6 directors, who between them have a great complementary mix of skills and experiences (writing, organising, exhibition construction). The Arts Council should be greatful for their value for money!

The plan that developed was to rent a container to house the toys outside the gallery. I wanted to hold onto the container in which the goods were to be delivered, but this would have been too expensive. It would also have been too expensive to get the goods delivered directly to Liverpool by sea. At first I was told it wasn’t possible, then Hamilton (who made the ship tracking system) searched and found there were sea routes to Liverpool (via Le Harve). Its not reassuring when googling something provides better information than the people you’re paying to do this (the shipping agents). It was a pleasant suprise to find that renting a container is quite affordable – just £1.50 a day, plus £120 delivery and pick up. The container will house the ship tracking system displayed on a laptop for the first half of the exhibition, in the same space in which the 1000 ‘New Constitutions’ -toys will be held. In a separate room inside the gallery is the 3 screen video installation.

The container mentioned, has arrived!

Kevin Hunt

Photo: Kevin Hunt

For the next 4 weeks it will house the ship tracking system you can see above, until the 1000 dolls arrive.

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Huang Pu, wuh-hooo!

Posted by mrdemocracy on 09,09,2008

They’re off. Today I relaxed for the first time in two months! It was a stressful day though, completely Challenge Anneka.

Our deadline was 11am at the warehouse in Huang Pu, Gaungzhou’s main port. Despite everyone telling me it would be easy to find a truck and driver (man with a big van), we … had some trouble finding a man with a big van. Fearing that one wouldn’t be enough, we got two trucks (Jackson’s friend recommended them for us), and we met them at a metro station. From there we tried to get to the installation factory. I say tried to, we were again struck by the no-maps-no-directions-curse, loosing us valuable time. In the end someone came to meet us on a bike, after a few circles and many phone calls. Arriving at the installation factory I seemed to be in more of a rush than anyone, but Marco got the idea pretty quick. As the boxes started coming downstairs, I went upstairs to pay up. As this wasn’t Marco’s place, we settled using some plastic chairs to count the cash, I’ve never counted to much so fast!

The pressure only increased as we got back on the trucks to speed off to the port. I was concerned about traffic and getting lost, particularly not being able to find our warehouse. Jackson and I were on the phone all the time to each other and Laura from the shipping company. Arriving at Huang Pu, we were told we had to go to a counter to hand in a form, and get another one. I don’t know what people normally do, I can’t imagine many people do so much themselves. The queue at the counter was long and slow, and we noticed that the counter closed at 11:30 for lunch. Lunchtime in China seems to be as strict as France and Italy (used to be), and it also has nap time built-in, I approve. We made it! We were the last ones before the little counter window was slammed shut, that was lucky. We then went off to find our warehouse, 8c. We then discovered that it was closed for lunch, I don’t know why we weren’t told this by Laura beforehand. We unloaded onto pallets next to the warehouse, thankful that it didn’t rain, and paid the drivers. Lunchtime gave me a moment to start some filming – coming in with the goods had given me the opportunity to get right into the port, and it was the container base, cranes and all. I hadn’t known this before, I had thought we might have left our boxes at a warehouse owned by the shipping company, but they were not around.

After lunch the pallets were driven into the warehouse, boxes bouncing around, I don’t know how they are supposed to get to England. They had a piece of string to hold them together. And they were marked with chalk. We’ll see.

The filming opportunities got better still. A little wander round the corner and we were at the waterfront, with the cranes dropping the containers onto barges set for the short ride to Hong Kong, where they will be transferred to bigger cargo ships. Amazing. I still can’t believe we could get in and get so close, what happened to all the Olympic security? One guard told us we weren’t allowed to film, and asked us who we were. It did help that we were customers. We couldn’t really argue that we were lost (we were a long way from our warehouse), but maybe just curious customers. I tried to be discreet, and although he could still see we were there, he never come back. Jackson started to get a bit nervous with the huge cranes moving tonnes of container above our heads and rolling on their train tracks next to us, so we called it a day. Walking out of the container base in search of a bus or taxi, I really felt like I’d done it, the toys were on their way. Thanks Arts Council England, thanks for believing I could do it.

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Where are the clothes?

Posted by mrdemocracy on 05,09,2008

We had another scare (there’s basically one a day) – Marco called to say the clothes weren’t there. After calls to Mr Shao and Ms Chen (from the company from whom Mr Shao buys his toys, but not actually the toy factory owners), we establish that the delivery company left the box at the depot. Marco and the delivery company try to persuade me to go and get it. Quite apart from the fact that I’ve paid them to deliver it, its a complete waste of time – there are no good maps and I’ll never find this place. So after hours of persuasion, Marco relents and goes, although its only (in theory 15 mins from his company). We arrange to meet up after at the installation factory, his colleague shows me the way there.

Marco arrives an hour an a half late, having walked for miles. He’s pissed off with the delivery company, they just told him ‘near the bus station, just go straight’. Indeed, it was straight, but about 2 miles ‘straight’. It has the positive affect of making me realise that this sort of thing happens to everyone here not just me. What is still hard to understand the reaction – there was no acknowledgement by the delivery company that this was wrong, giving him useless directions and making him walk 2 miles.

Anyway, it was another great day being able to see the installation factory. Bear in mind this factory really was just working to complete my order, re-wiring each doll with the new chip, DC socket and switch. They also had to test each one, which I had failed to anticipate – that meant all the time you could hear ‘Consti, constit, Constitution for the United Kingdom of Gre…’!! It was comical, and made complete sense for the project.

I was disappointed to see that the boxes were damaged, with not just scuff and crushes, but holes too, don’t know how that happened. We discussed it with Marco, and I won’t go into the detail, but there was trying to decide who was responsible – the toy factory, the transporters, or the factory that received the goods for not noticing until now. I accepted pretty quickly that we weren’t going to get any more from Mr Shao or Ms Chen (also she was more helpful), so it was up to Marco and me. I offered to go 50 50 on some new boxes, and he agreed, remarkably easy. All a bit silly really – I’m more worried about the booxes being damaged than the toys the boxes are meant to protect. It might have been better to pack all the toys together and have 1000 boxes left flatpacked to be assembled in the UK, in good condition.

We also spent several hours trying out one ‘mainline’ – the power lead connecting all the toys together, so that they could all be run off the mains (saving the need to change batteries). In the end the design was incredibly simple, just a 30cm length of thin wire connected to the next by a connector – the type used to connect a lightbulb wire to the mains wire. There is then a DC socket coming of each of these connectors aswell, which plugs into the toy. At the end of these (100) wires is a mains power convertor. It was exciting to get all the toys laid out and plugged in… but sad to see that it wasn’t going to work. The voice chips went out of sink very quickly, and after less than 10 seconds you couldn’t make out a word. I then tried it with just 2, and even they went out of sink fast, and became inaudible. Marco seemed dissappointed too, which he should – this was a big part of what we had discussed since the start. The electrical engineers had said it would work. I wasn’t at all annoyed really – it just didn’t work. I was much more annoyed that the delivery company had failed to deliver the toys and made Marco walk 2 miles to pick them up.

What was also really different here was spending 4 hours in the factory, recording and then trying to get the mainline working. It was different to be working with Marco, we were trying to solve the problems together, and the people from the factory too, whereas before I’d been more of a customer.

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I’m not sure about Article 16

Posted by mrdemocracy on 29,08,2008

On our return from Shantou, our first job was to recover, a few hours sleep on a wet bus didn’t suffice.

As we understood the toys were leaving the same night as us, it was was worrying to hear they had managed to take until lunchtime to complete the same 6 hour journey as us back to Gaungzhou. A few calls and questions later revealed that ‘the driver couldn’t find the factory’ in Gaungzhou. If I were the driver, I might have called to find out where I was going, not waited another 6 hours till they called me. Nevermind now.

What a disaster. Still in bed, my phone was quietly virating by my side on the studio floor tiles. Marco from the chip factory, to explain to my embarassment, that ‘article 16 seemed to be repeated’. Ok, so they do listen to it, the people producing the chips. I was never quite sure. I suppose the doll is not that weird, and its not that political, it just reads something, which happens to have lots of articles. I jumped on the computer and checked the article he mentioned, and sure enough article 16 was mentioned twice. So I went back and made a proof listen. It was even worse than he thought – after the first 2 minutes, it goes right back to the start. It was good to see that they take care of our order, that they want to do it right, but they now have an excuse to be late. When they asked us to try to slow the voice down, just after signing the contract, I tried to ask if changing the voice file would delay the process, and I understood not. Actually its ridiculous that it comes down to a day here and there, after weeks of negotiating and looking. We were working everyday, but we still could have started earlier.

He was checking the file himself, listening for mistakes. He asked me about what he thought was another mistake, I looked it up but it was fine, and on telling marco, he explained ‘ah, its a new word for me’.

I have re-edited the clip, and sent it back. Marco tells me they process the sound file themselves, by hand in a way, altering it to fit it on the chip. I offered him a tiny file (highly compressed – smaller than the last file they produced), but he tells me file size itself is not important. He has said I can visit the factories that modify the circuit boards and install the micro controller, thats soon, looking forward to that.

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At Mr Shao’s

Posted by mrdemocracy on 25,08,2008

I should mention that some of this blog has been written offline and at another time. The website is not easily accessible in China – I have to use a proxy such as which makes it slower.

Its 7:30pm, I’m sitting on the sofa in Mr Shao’s living room. We weren’t keen on Mr Shao right from the start. He’s a little younger than I expected, but not much more friendly. We were offered grapes and Pepsi, but the lavish tea set wasn’t put into use. It’s getting a little late, and we’d like to get it done. Jackson is now in the bathroom, calling his friend to ask what exactly you do put in a contract, as he’s never made one. Mr Shao is at his computer, perhaps chatting or doing some other work. We had pretty much arranged a price by the time we came (17Rmb, £1.35), but of course wanted to bring it down. Maybe making a price before coming all this way was a mistake – he knows we’re interested at that price. Our distrust of him raised considerably, when he explained that the quote he had given us didn’t include putting the arms, legs and head on the body of the doll. That would be extra you see, otherwise we would just get a bag of body bits. It’s a wonder you don’t get charged extra for plates, chopsticks, and furniture in Chinese restaurants, although Jackson tells me you do in some places. I bet they tell you after you’ve eaten.

We’re going through the various points of the contract now, Jackson amended Mr Shao’s document. We need ‘Suzy Sprints’ nappy for instance, that wasn’t in the photo. We mentioned visiting and videoing in the factory, he said it’ll be no problem, we might just need to slip it in the contract. The last bus to Guangzhou leaves at 9, and we’re half an hour from the bus station. Neither of us fancy staying in Huizhou, better back to Guangzhou, back to the Acedemy. There’s Peep Show on youtube there for me, and 19th century western art history DVDs for Jackson.

I just counted the wad of cash, Jackson seems to have everything under control with the contract. Mr Shaou just called to see about our box, how long it would take. Is this documenting something, describing it on your laptop while it happens? I wonder if he’s wondering what I’m doing. I wonder if he wonders who I am. Why have I come all this way to haggle with him in his house? I think he’s got a little kid, but maybe all the dolls are samples. He says the 7 days are tight, because of the clothes, which is a shame, we don’t really want them anyway. Just noticed that the larger boxes have contents details on the side, including a name or description – good, I can put “Oliver Walker/ Mr Democracy” on the side. I’m happy not just because it looks cool (Democracy arriving in cardboard boxes), but because the customs and Trading Standards should be more easily placated.

Jackson is now working against the clock to write the amendments to the contract. 3 minutes. Meanwhile, I hover and eat cold sweet bean soup, and get trinkets from Mr Shaou, who nows seems more friendly. Its worrying – these awful trinkets are probably the kind my doll should be made from. Instead, we’ve gone for something altogether better looking, after lots of skyping and emails back and forth with friends dotted around the world for advice. The original plan wasn’t to try to get something that I really liked, sorry China, it was to get something cheap and mass produced, which says ‘cheap Chinese s***’. On that note, maybe better to have gone for something better. Tom Shi, who was letting me use his studio, was keen that I don’t reinforce the low quality Chinese products stereotype.

We have missed the bus. Signed, paid up, now off round the corner to get a hotel and eat dinner with Mr Shaou and his little boy, at a restaurant cum aquarium. Its one thing to have the fish recently killed, but they try to avoid actually ever killing them, in order to keep them fresh. Our fish was descaled on the pavement while still flapping. Maybe I should stop eating fish aswell as meat.

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Mandy’s doll

Posted by mrdemocracy on 15,08,2008

Sarah got ill on Friday, and by the time she was better she had little time left to help me. She had said before she started working for me that she had too work on other projects and her own artwork.
She put me in touch with Jackson, a friend of hers from Uni, and he started helping me online and on the phone.

After giving up on the moving doll, we’ve been looking for simple non-moving ones. All the same, not quite as easy as you’d think. After literally days of looking, we are down to a couple. I say down to, these seemed to be ones people could actually supply. The price difference is huge, ‘Mandy’s’ costs 3.5 Rmb (0.35€, £0.28), ‘Mr Shaou’s’ 21 Rmb (2.10€ £1.69), huge difference. As you can see from these rather unflattering photos, Mandy’s is pretty rough, with collapsable falling out limbs.

Mandy’s doll (cheaper)

Actually, the quality isn’t really the main problem, in theory I don’t need something great quality, its more the 12 going on 21 year old girl clothes which are worryingly sexy, just sends out the wrong message. They also don’t stand up. This is another factor where before I came, I wouldn’t have worried, but now I’m speding all this time and money, I prefer a doll that has ‘something’. So many hours with spent with good friends (patient friends) in Berlin discussing what kind of doll I should go for, and here the options seem different.

Heres Mr Shao’s, as photographed at Tom’s studio.

I am now staying in Jackson’s studio in the Gaungzhou Academy of Fine Art. Apart from saving money, its easier to stay where I’m working, and not have to worry about what time and where we meet up.

As with Sarah, me and Jackson talk alot, and have much to ask each other. Jackson has never left China, but he is keen too. His family come from a rural background, and later on he tells me that his great (or great great?) Grandfather was killed in the Cultural Revolution, because he was a landowner, albeit not a particularly wealthy one. This has set some scepticism towards the communist party in his family. I say only some, from his recounts neither his generation nor the last seem fiercly critical. Indeed, at age sixteen, Jackson was a convinced communist, but later lost his faith. He also recounted making his way to school at 4am by the light of a flame, and returning not lang after daybreak to help with the farm duties again. These are fond memories he holds. Later his family moved to the city to make a living, and his father, with little eduction (his mother with even less) set up several business’, 2 of which failed, but he keeps trying. These stories of rural to urban migration and the lifestyle changes they bring are to be found everywhere here. Another forming point in his life had been being left alone for two weeks to look after factory premises his father had just set up in a nearby city, aged just 12, which taught him the value of work. It certainly impressed me.

I started to show Jackson some of the BBC programmes I like, such as From Our Own Correspondent and the documentary archive. feeling like a dangerous foreign influence, doing exactly what the Chinese government doesn’t like about foreigners. I even explained and demonstrated proxies, which allow you to see otherwise blocked sites from within China, such as this one.

I then have to ask myself again, as Jackson asks me, is the BBC state run, as CCTV? It certainly has british interests at heart, but it makes critical programmes. I know people who work in for the BBC and for Chinese media outlets, and there is a huge difference, no doubt. On the other hand, some of the news is a little conservative, from my experience at protests. The BBC probably reported on the Republican and Democratoc National Congresses this year, but did they show the violence I mentioned earlier?
Despite this record of critical programme making, the threshold needed for critisising the government, or more importantly the basis of the system in the west, is that much higher.

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Free Tibet! (Made in China)

Posted by mrdemocracy on 28,04,2008

‘Free Tibet’ flags made in China

I don’t suppose this is an art project, but it could have been, it has that ‘wrong place’ element employed often in artwork – e.g. artist Xiaopeng Huang proposed to move the Star Ferry pier from Hong Kong to Guangzhou for the Gaungzhou Biennale this year, not realised due to its cost. It also mimicks my project a little, using an industrial method in the wrong place/time. Though not immediately obvious, theres something fundamental explored in this news story – why shouldn’t a chinese factory produce free tibet flags? Not that I’m on the side of the Chinese nationalists here, but it raises the simple question of regulation – when shouldn’t a business do something? Its also just fantastic.

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