I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron
- Deborah Chu
- 20 August 2019
This article is from 2019
Excavation of the unseen labour which underpins our modern existence, told with exquisite beauty and brutality
In 2014, a young factory worker named Xu Lizhi ended his life in the Shenzhen complex of Foxconn, an electronics manufacturer that provides parts to Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, amongst many others. His death was not an anomaly: four years previous, there had been 14 reported cases of suicide, though the true number is likely higher. Xu was also a poet, and after his death left behind nearly 200 poems, many of which detailed the factory's brutal working conditions and the dehumanisation of the workers on the assembly line. In this production by performer, director and composer Njo Kong Kie, Xu's poems are set to an evocative piano score and a stream of projected images, with English surtitles.
Despite the stark minimalism of the set – there is only Njo, his piano, a projector, a grey box and a cement block on stage – the sheer force of Njo's music and Xu's words fills the room with scenes from a harrowing purgatory, one full of both violence and a terrible, stultifying monotony. Here is a place that strips away love, youth and any semblance of the human; life is reduced to payslips and flickering fluorescent bulbs, where bodies, like screws, are easily interchangeable within the relentless machine. Njo's score is a marvel, conveying a vast spectrum of places and complicated emotions with heartbreaking lyricism: the deadening exhaustion of work, nostalgia for home and the endless, consuming static of the assembly line.
Yet I Swallowed A Moon manages to both encapsulate the deep nihilism of Xu's verses, while also honour the workers that toil in these factories. In the song 'Migrant Workers', Xu's haunting verses are projected against pulsing ocean waves – signifying the innumerable lives and the power of their invisible labour, which create the amenities that shore up modern existence. A desperate scream into the void, I Swallowed A Moon is a powerful portrait of one man and his work, but also of the countless unseen souls whose health and bodies are being destroyed for the sake of society's desire for shinier, newer, better.
ZOO Southside, until 25 Aug, 10pm, £10 (£9).