Exhibit a ‘Witness’ to dangers of globalization 

Now on exhibit at the San Francisco Art Institute’s McBean Gallery is "Active Witness." The show is the first installment of "World Factory," a series of exhibitions responding to conflicts and issues — exploitation of labor and natural resources, uneven economic development, urbanization, population displacement and migration and pollution — arising from world capitalism.

The exhibit’s thesis is that capitalism, being based on principles including exploitation of land and labor for profit, has created divisions of labor that result in global economic disparities.

Organized by Hou Hanru, the institute’s director of exhibitions and public programs, the show features pieces by 14 international artists working in photography, film and video, and printed material. The installation is presented as an architectural ensemble, an amalgam of orchestrated sights, sounds and texts designed to connect people’s experiences of exploitation, dislocation, exile and migration, and to negotiate their loss of identity by questioning the concept of globalization.

For example, common words such as "made in China" or "hecho en Mexico" have rendered work done by people in factories invisible; the exhibit’s goal is to demand recognition of their presence — and labor.

Jean-Baptiste Ganne’s "Illustrated Capital" includes 40 photographs depicting workers in factories, offices and fields. While seemingly unrelated, the images represent chapter headings of Karl Marx’s "Das Kapital." The piece is intended to show how Marx’s analysis of industrial capital is relevant today.

In other pieces on display, bench seat covers have dictionary definitions printed on them, terms such as labor, capital, market, commodity and factory. These are placed in front of video monitors showing workers testimonies’ of their factory experiences and struggles in Mexico, the plight of urban migrant industrial workers in southern China, and images of various modes of transportation around the world.

In addition to engaging viewers, the exhibit also implicates them by focusing on the interconnectedness of social struggles. In so doing, it points to a shared human predicament that, however unequally, we all inhabit the world together.

Active Witness

Where: San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut St., San Francisco

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; closes Feb. 27

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 771-7020 or www.sfai.edu

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