The Unstable Object is a long-term observational project about the conditions of factory production in the early part of the twenty-first century. The project consists of nine 20-30 minute length portraits of specific factories that exemplify particular structural, ethical, sensual, and economic relationships... each quite different from the next. These portraits are initially intended as three separate films, but because in the early 21st century moving image media itself has been so extraordinarily unstable and mutable, the work has been conceived for multiple formats, varied audiences, and venues. The conception of the work must be durable enough to withstand these multiple reconfigurations, and must be conceptually legible in these different conditions, modes of presentation. and variable curatorial and spatial contexts.
Over the last year, I have been working on the second film in the series, thematically centered on the mass and the individual. I begin this series at Ottobock in Duderstadt, where thousands of prosthetic hands, feet, arms, and legs are produced daily for the world market... from rural Africa to large international urban centers... from wooden feet to microprocessor-controlled knees. Each object produced at this factory must be individually custom-fitted, so by its very nature the factory also produces one of the most advanced forms of individualized mass-production. These prosthetics are often designed to be as invisible as possible, but what remains most unseen and unspoken, are the causes for their proliferation... the land mines, wars, terrorist incidents, industrial and vehicular accidents, and the medically necessary amputations that multiply yearly to make prosthetics a reliable growth industry.
The factory in Duderstadt is a sophisticated vertically integrated factory. It has its own wood drying kiln and wood shop, its own forge and stamping facilities, its own machine shop, carbon fibre fabrication, foam production and fabrication, logistics center, silicone prosthetics fabrication and final fitting clinic. They recycle all but 12% of their energy, recycle all their waste materials, and have produced their own software for inventory and distribution for every part that’s produced. It’s uncannily self-contained.
In this factory, an arc can be mapped from extremely repetitive, relatively low-skilled tasks, all the way to highly artisanal, creative craftwork and high-end technical expertise. This installation briefly sketches several kinds of labor found in the factory... tracing the movement from mass production to individualized object... ending with the final fitting of a foot for Dominique Bizimana by technical specialist Norbert Jakobi of Ottobock. Bizimana, who travelled to Germany from Kigali Rwanda, lost his lower leg fighting for the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) during the Rwandan civil war in 1994. He is now an Olympic athlete and team captain of the Rwanda Paralymic Volleyball Team.