HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — On the one hand, it is fairly banal to acknowledge that the manmade objects around us didn’t just appear; they come from somewhere and were made by someone. On the other hand, we often don’t know very much about where, exactly, things are made and, more importantly, by whom. The average American consumer has no idea how much labor goes into an everyday object, even one as omnipresent as, say, a little black dress.
Enter Tsz Yan Ng, who can tell you the exact number of hands involved in the making of a certain little black sheath dress, produced and sold by Lafayette 148 New York — a vertically integrated garment manufacturing company which runs all aspects of production, from design to distribution, out of offices in both New York and a manufacturing facility in Shantou, China. Tsz Yan knows this company and its facility intimately; not only was her father the longtime manager of the cutting floor, she is the architect of record for the current facility in Shantou. In 2013, Tsz Yan created an installation at 9338 Campau’s former location, 2739 Edwin, called Factory Setting: the space of Labor, wherein she painstakingly wove together two massive 20 ft. x 20 ft. photographs detailing aspects of the garment factory on a self-made loom. The composite image combined a wide shot of the factory cutting floor with a close-up of workers’ hands bunching textiles together.