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 ‘toy production’

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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Clap your hands say ‘constitution’

Posted by mrdemocracy on 30,07,2008

After several days of looking online, we had an idea at the wholesale market. We found one doll that featured a sound control – you know, clap and it crys or sings or something. If they all had this, they could all respond to the same clap, or something louder, and all speak simultaneously, which would be a great improvement on what I thought I could get.

We have also been looking for voice chip manufacturers this week. Tom suggested we seperate out the process, it could be faster. Normally you would buy the toy from one supplier, and they would be responsible for the whole thing. We had been having difficulty getting toy manufacturers to agree to change the voice chip – 1000 is a small order, and the work involved for them to sell 1000 is almost the same as selling 50 000.

We called several chip companies. The third one we called said they had just received two calls from other companies with exactly the same inquiry as ours, which suggests they were supplying the others, so we decided to pay them a visit. A metro and bus ride later and we were on a dusty roadside, still waiting to meet someone from the factory after 5 phonecalls. It was frustrating, the no-maps thing was wasting so much time again. I say again, two days before I had managed to stop the taxi driver as he took a wrong turning on the 10 minute journey between Tom’s studio and the hotel. As we were approaching a main junction, I was reading the (mainly Chinese) map thinking to myself, ‘here its either a right turn or straight on’, so when we took a left, I tugged on his shoulder and pointed in the other direction, showing him the map. I don’t think it was dishonesty, just relying on an unreliable sense of direction.

We met with 4 people from the office in the end, and were suprised by their patience. It wasn’t a big order, and they spent 4 hours talking to us, which makes me think it wasn’t the ‘forth biggest chip company in China’, as they’d said. We explained what we wanted to do, and they said the linking up of several, or in fact all, of the toys to the mains would be possible. We didn’t mention that we were artists, or at least we weren’t meant to, on advice from Tom and Jim (from the British Council). They had suggested that Chinese business men don’t have the sympathy for ‘culture’ that you can often get if you say you are an artist in the west. Even so, in the west this only works at a low level, everyone else needs to know they’ll make decent money out of you. Unfortunately Sarah wasn’t too up on this line, and had already said we were ‘from the Art Academy’. She back peddled quite well, explaining that we were design students in a joint venture, producing something for a trade fair (an exhibition) in Liverpool. I don’t know if they beleived us, but I think they were interested to have a customer from Europe.

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