‘The Chalk Factory’ (2017) is an audiovisual installation by Mikhail Karikis comprising 10 video channels and 10 audio channels, and in this documentation it is presented with the additional single-screen video 'Hyottoko the God of Fire' which functions as a prologue to the theme of disability and labour. The installation creates an environment which superimposes onto the exhibition space the layout of Rikagaku Chalk Industries, which is a chalk manufacturing plant that employs almost exclusively workers with learning disabilities.
Built in the dense industrial outskirts of Tokyo, Rikagaku Chalk Industries offered temporary employment to two teenagers with mental disabilities in 1960. The last day of the youths’ employment was marked by a little-known but extraordinary event that changed the factory’s identity and Japan’s labour history. Workers reacted against the dismissal of their disabled colleagues, requesting the extension of their contracts and emphasising the benefits of including them in their team. Inspired by the workers’ historical protest, which addressed labour rights for workers with disabilities, Karikis developed a relationship with the factory, gaining access to its unique production processes.
‘The Chalk Factory’ observes the rhythms of a day at work, the transformations of materials and the vivid colour changes of the workspace. In this environment, we see the employees starting their day with balletic exercises, followed by the coordinated production choreography of workers and machines, and their mesmerising performance of repetitive and highly specialised tasks on specially modified equipment. The soundscape ranges from factory chimes which conduct the day’s activities to industrial beats accompanying the workers’ murmurs, their involuntary vocalisations and repeated soliloquies. These are interrupted by the cheerful dissonances of the workers’ karaoke and communal leisure time.
The single-channel prologue video, 'Hyottoko the God of Fire', features a performance of the ancient Japanese legend of Hyottoko by the bamboo flute player Kiku Day. Recently rediscovered by Dr Nicola Grove and analysed through the emergent field of the cultural history of disability, the Hyottoko legend centres on an ‘odd-looking’ character who fails at every job he tries until he is asked to blow the village fire through a bamboo stick.
The overall project foregrounds disability’s own cultural history. It observes productivity, the body and social function and raises ethical questions about disability and labour, and the dignity of work. Created in collaboration with workers with disabilities and featuring their empowering work environment, the immersive installation proposes a model of inclusion and difference.
The Chalk Factory" was commissioned by the EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE AARHUS 2017 (Denmark).
The single-channel video "Hyottoko the God of Fire" appearing as a prologue to "The Chalk Factory" was commissioned by Film London Artists' Moving Image Nework for Channel 4 (UK).
Funded by the European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017, Arts Council England & Channel 4
Performance: Kiku Day
Camera: Louis Sainsbury, Mikhail Karikis
Sound: Mikhail Karikis
Production & coordination: Bikendi Cadelo, Thomas Mee, Haizea Galarreta
Live events production: Jon Skjerning-Rasmussen, Anne Line Bugge, Brian Laurie
Special Thanks: Juliana Engberg, Bikendi Cadelo and the Aarhus 2017 Team, Jon Skjerning-Rasmussen, Karsten Hvid, De Splittergale.
Production: Naomi Shibata
Camera: Shoji Takaoka, Ellie Kyongran Heo, Mikhail Karikis
Sound: Yuji Tsutsumida, Mikhail Karikis
Coordination: Koichiro Osaka
Special Thanks: Nihon Rikagaku Industries workers, management staff and directors, Yumiko Mitsudo, Koichiro Osaka, Kounosuke Kawakami.
Research mentor: Dr Nicola Clare Grove
Technical assistance: Matt Nightingale
Grading: Storm HD London
Special Thanks: Dr Nicola Clare Grove, DAIWA Foundation