In January 2017, a group of artists and academics travelled through Kenya to examine the rise of cheap, throw-away quality electronics. They visited downtown shopping streets, rural markets, luxury shopping malls and wholesale traders to buy and document one of the cheapest electronics accessories: USB charging cables. This event will include a presentation of their archive of USB cables, video and photography artwork, and a panel discussion on the broader implications of the recent global proliferation of cheap electronics.
Over the past decades, large numbers of used electronic devices from Europe and North-America have been exported to countries in Africa and East-Asia, where they have been re-used and eventually discarded and processed as waste. However, in recent years a change has been taking place in the global distribution of electronic devices and their accessories.
More and more often, new low-grade, cheap electronics – including phones, tablets and their accessories – are now exported directly from manufacturers in East-Asia to consumers in both the Global North and the Global South. In the nearby future, this stream of new devices may replace the export and re-use of second-hand devices from Europa and North-America. At the same time, everyday electronic devices and peripherals that are so cheap that even consumers in developing economies can afford throwing them away quickly are likely to become commonplace.
The artists and academics taking part in this project have been examining this development through psychogeographical explorations of various trading sites for consumer electronics in Kenya. While drifting through different environments, they purchased a range of USB phone charging cables and documented various aspects of these objects, their surroundings, and the stories accompanying them. This has formed the starting point for reflection on the ways in which these seemingly small and banal objects might reflect broader themes. What does the rise of ultra-cheap technologies mean with regards to the role of technology as a classic cultural symbol for progress and the new? How might the changing global distribution of consumer electronics reflect larger shifts in international (neo-colonial) power dynamics?
Curated by Marianna Tsionki
Video art by Ellen Pau (HK), Dislocation, [1min 47sec], Greenman Muleh Mbilleh (Kenya), Untitled Cable Piece [5 min], Dani Ploeger (UK/NL), Tether (for Gaikundo sheep), [2min 15sec]
Photographs by Alexia Manzano (AR/D)
Panel discussion with Catherine Chapman (freelance journalist; VICE/NBC), Dani Ploeger (artist, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama), Marianna Tsionki (research curator, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester) and Dr. Chris Williams (Institute of Education, University College London).