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The Route

Chen Chieh-jen’s films can be deceptively beautiful. He creates striking sequences of near abstract black and white images, but at the same time his works are moving depictions of the lives of real people: he uses the local and the individual to show us the often harsh realities of global economics. Chen’s new film for International 06 looks back to the dock-workers’ strike of the 1990’s, sparked when five hundred Liverpool dockers were fired for refusing to cross a picket line. The Route follows the fortunes of one ship and its cargo, revealing in the process a truly global story of workers’ solidarity that begins in Liverpool’s docks and ends all the way back in the artist’s homeland, Taiwan. In 1995 Liverpool dockers protesting at the casualisation of labour refused to cross the picket line and were sacked by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. During the dispute they alerted longshoremen’s unions across the world and gained support from their colleagues internationally. When Neptune Jade set sail from England dock workers in Vancouver, Yokohama and Kobe all refused to let the ship dock and unload its cargo. The ship eventually sailed to Taiwan where it was dismantled and sold. Neptune Jade stands as a significant event in the struggle of the dock workers and has become a model of their international solidarity. During his research Chen worked with Liverpool poet Dave Ward who created a poem based upon the ongoing traces of the dockers’ dispute in Liverpool. This global event started in Liverpool and ended in Taiwan, the artist’s home. The Route represents history by interspersing documentary footage of films on the dockers’ dispute and the Neptune Jade with new footage of a staged picket line at the Port of Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The action of the Taiwanese dockers in 2006 suggests a meaningful understanding of the future for dockers’ rights. A symbolic connection between workers in Liverpool and Taiwan is created, echoing the dockers’ phrase ‘The world is our picket line’. Kyla McDonald

Project Credits Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial International 06. Courtesy of the artist.


16 September – 26 November 2006