What if you were stopped on the street and someone offered to buy everything you owned? What would they find? Would the items on your person truly represent who you are…your beliefs, political stance, goals, religious affiliation, or values or would they find random inconsequential items that somehow found their way inside your pocket or purse.
Liu Chang’s exhibit, Buy Everything on You(2006-2008), currently on display at The New Museum of Contemporary Art, offers such a snapshot into modern Chinese culture. The artist approached people on the streets and offered to buy everything on their person.
The exhibit consists of all of the items that Liu Chang purchased from individuals on the street placed on a white table. What was most striking was the prevalence of western culture that had been appropriated by the Gen-Y individuals Chang choose for this project.
There was a the usual proliferation of western cultural hallmarks such as denim jeans, cotton t-shirts, sneakers, and cell-phones, as well as certain items, like seaweed, personal tissues, and Chinese currency or id cards that serve as place markers and reminders that these individuals were not your average American suburban teens, but rather represented a new Chinese identity forged from a communist country whose current wealth is the result of capitalist enterprise.
A new China that is intent on capitalizing on consumers’ needs and desires for new things and supplying the West’s ever-growing demand for quick, cheap, and disposable fashions. Most interesting, is that Chang chose a canvas which showcases both contemporary consumer proclivities as well as outlines the social and personal forces that help us to define ourselves—our clothing.
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These new millennial individuals have much more freedom of personal expression than their ancestors living under the dictate and rules of Mao Tse-tung. In this era of communist China, citizens were expected to dress in uniformity wearing clothing which showed no difference in rank or gender, consisting of a military-style tunic-like jacket, short trousers, and cloth-peaked caps. Dress was used to express a national rather than individual identity.
Today, a rapidly growing upper and middle class seeks to enhance its identity and quality of life with luxury products. Much of Chinese spending is driven by people’s desire to enhance their own social status and visibility by an association with famous brand names. In recent years, it has not been uncommon to see owners of a new suit conspicuously “forget” to remove the brand name and price tag that revealed the maker and high price of their new apparel.
Also fueling this demand for luxury products is that China now has an entire population of young, affluent males, called Little Emperors, who have grown up during the one-child only policy and thus, have been afforded many more liberties from their parents as only children.
Recognizing both China’s demand and ability to purchase these designer items, luxury brands, such as Prada, LVMH, and Armani, have and continue to scout new locations to open boutiques in China.
Analysts predict that, as China’s average per capita income grows, it will become the world's second-largest purchaser of luxury goods by 2015 and accounting for the sale of 29 percent of all luxury good sales worldwide(http://www.wikinvest.com/concept/Luxury_Consumption_in_China ).
Many more designer brands are looking toward the Far East as the demand for luxury products face sharp declines in Western Europe and the United States. In sharp contrast, the West is reworking the paradigm for luxury, which involves less the acquisition of high end products and instead centers on the luxury of intangibles(time, freedom, and personal satisfaction).
The recession has now forced us all to stop, pull out the things on our person, and truly question if we really are only the sum of our possessions.