The Route was made for the 2006 Liverpool Biennial. In the video, Chen Chieh-jen invites Kaohsiung dockers to stage a “strike” to make a connection to Neptune Jade and its famous incident in the history of global labor movement. When Margaret Thatcher was in power in the 1980s, all ports were gradually privatized. Private companies hired nonunion workers and temporary workers to replace the union workers who used to work there. In the September of 1995, eighty dockers in Liverpool were fired by Mersey Dock and Harbor Company without being notified in advance. Four hundreds dockers thus launched a strike as a protest, echoed by a global response of all dockers against port privatization.
In the September of 1997, as the Liverpool Dockers' Strike has lasted two years, the non-strike dockers were loading the cargo ship, the Neptune Jade, whose destination was the Port of Oakland on San Francisco Bay. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) soon solidified the network to support the strike at Liverpool and refused to unload the Neptune Jade.
Later, dockers at the ports of Vancouver, Yokohama, and Kobe launched a strike to support the dockers at Liverpool as well. Traveling around the world, the Neptune Jade found no one to unload the cargo. It eventually left Kobe, Japan for Kaohsiung at 12:30 on 17th October, 1997, while the ship and the cargo were allegedly sold by auction at the Port of Kaohsiung.
Dockers in Kaohsiung have neither heard of the Neptune Jade incident nor had any contact with ILWU and other organizations. However, in the same year of the incident, the Kaohsiung City Dock Workers' Union organized a protest against the policy to “privatize” the loading/unloading service. Unfortunately, the political and economic complicacy of the local situation and the lack of international support made it impossible to alter the policy. Dockers here had to accept the fact that they became the victims of casualization.
In the early August of 2006 – after Chen Chieh-Jen shared the story of the Neptune Jade incident with the Kaohsiung City Dock Workers' Union –, the union agreed to stage a symbolic picketing. The video was filmed between 17th August and 19th August, 2007 around the public space near the port and at the private docks, while the whole team was smuggled in by the employees of the contract company. When the video was showed at Liverpool Biennale, it again created another dialogue with the local people in Liverpool.
For Chen, a staged “strike” means more than to imagine a political action in the future against the neoliberalist ally of capital and states. It is about how an artistic form can “extend” the real ending of the incident and to transform the inspiring and encouraging history into “story,” “experience,” and “strategy” to be further developed by the audience.
The video focuses on the close-up of dockers’ facial expressions and physical movements, intentionally “excluding” the port and the sea from the frame as a metaphor that the policy of port privatization turns the ports and the sea into the space to be “re-open” and “re-approached.”