Canal Street in Chinatown, Manhattan, is perpetually deluged by imitation luxury products, which makes it the perfect place for artist trio Shanzhai Biennial to create their unhinged meditations on branding. The collective – Babak Radboy, Avena Gallagher and Cyril Duval – formed after they discovered shanzhai, the Chinese culture of imitation goods, which, as Radboy says, “steals and appropriates logos and twists them.” The group, who have exhibited at the New Museum and collaborated with NY brand Telfar, caught the attention of experimental dance artist Fatima Al Qadiri after she saw a video they made of Chinese model Wu Ting Ting singing “Nothing Compares 2 U” in Mandarin while wearing a sequined dress with a deliberately misspelled shampoo logo. Al Qadiri sampled the vocal in “Shanzhai (For Shanzhai Biennial)”, the opening track of her incredible new album, Asiatisch. “She based the whole album around the imagination of China,” Radboy says. “Not actual China, but impressions of it.” One can see why after visiting the collective’s treasure trove of a studio.
“Head & Shoulders is so iconic, and it’s also something that’s used at such an intimate moment in one’s day. You’re naked and you’re wet. The dress was made in Shanghai with photo print on sequins, with my phone number on the side. Kind of hidden, just like intimacy. You know that if you buy this, you’re ‘in’.”
Fatima Al Qadiri plate
“Fatima needed something for an event so we sent her a Shanzhai Biennial towel dress, and then she made us this plate of her wearing it in Kuwait as a thank you. It’s one of the first things we made and it’s just a towel with six holes cut in it that you can wrap as a dress. It’s nice that it’s both a towel and eveningwear. It’s really not casualwear. It looks really fancy when you put it on.”
Head of Telfar Clemens
“For SS14, I started collaborating with Telfar. I actually took it really seriously from a marketing standpoint, like, ‘Okay. How do we get you an investor? How do we get you sales?’ In a weird way, it was similar to how we created a brand out of nothing with Shanzhai. This head is from our show at the New Museum last February. We made a 7ft 3D-printed sculpture of Telfar Clemens – the most reified version of the ‘larger than life’ strategy of the celebrity designer. It’s one of my favourite things. The head hangs out at my apartment.”