Meta.Morf X – Digital Wild / Trondheim kunstmuseum – Gråmølna, March 5 – May 3, 2020 / Curator: Espen Gangvik


The Chinese term shanzhai (山寨) refers to counterfeit consumer goods. This includes imitation, trademark infringement, parody, lookalikes and improved goods, particularly in the field of electronics. A shanzhai (literally shan: mountain, zhai: stronghold) denotes a remote village in the mountains where bandits had once recreated their own form of society, far from the rules of the emperor.

Shanzhai Archeology presents an extraordinary collection of mobile phones from this technological interbreeding Made in China. These are hybrid products developed at an incredible speed merging piracy, reverse engineering, unique creativity and self-taught skills.
In this collection, a Buddha Phone, becomes a virtual altar by pressing a special key. The “smallest in the world” or Prisoner Phone is made of 99% plastic and is barely detectable by the authorities. There’s the Taser Phone, marketed as a self-defense weapon, or the Sound System Phone, catering for China’s pensioners as it can broadcast loud sound outdoors, being heard above the din of the public dances they love. It also comes with several gigabytes of old-fashioned communist songs that Chinese pensioners are particularly keen on. Other curious devices include strawberry or car-shaped phones, devices with in-built electric razors, lighters, power banks, video projectors and other impressive features.

A profitable business produced by small companies, shanzhai mainly happens out of Western sight, due to regulations that forbid most of these hybrid products to circulate legally across borders. Nevertheless, shanzhai devices fulfil a bespoke need or desire for hundreds of thousands of consumers in countries around the world, not just in China.

At a time when shanzhai might be under threat— following the Chinese government’s decision to clean up the country of its counterfeiter reputation—this project casts a critical eye at the results of unfettered technological innovation, through the relatively unknown history of the shanzhai.

Positioning this project at the crossroads between art and anthropology, the artists explore the cultural value of shanzhai and the radical otherness of its creative process; an open manufacturing model resulting in singular design solutions outside streamlined market forces and global innovation myths.

—Irini Papadimitriou, London, January 2018

Shanzhai Archeology
DISNOVATION.ORG (Nicolas Maigret, Maria Roszkowska, Clément Renaud & Hongyuan Qu) 2015-2018
3D models: Terrell Davis
Installation, collection, video, research, publication | 2015-2018

With The Support Of:
CNC Dicream, Design Trust – Hong Kong, Design Society – Shenzhen, Institut Français de Chine, Le Cube – Art3000, Watermans Art Centre is a working group based in Paris, initiated by Nicolas Maigret (FR) and Maria Roszkowska (PL/FR). At the intersection
of contemporary art, research and hacking, the collective develops situations of disruption, speculation, and debate, in order to question dominant techno-positivist ideologies, and to stimulate post-growth narratives. They edited The Pirate Book, an anthology on media piracy. Their research includes artworks, curation and publications. In 2018, they received a Design Trust Grant (Hong Kong) for a research about China’s Shanzhai culture. They are currently visiting researchers at the University of California, Irvine.

Their work has been presented at numerous art centers and festivals internationally such as Centre Pompidou (Paris), Transmediale (Berlin), the Museum of Art and Design (New York), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), FILE (Sao Paulo), ZKM (Karlsruhe), Strelka Institute (Moscow), ISEA (Hong Kong), Elektra (Montréal), China Museum of Digital Arts (Beijing), and the Chaos Computer Congress (Hamburg)… Their work has been featured in Forbes, Vice, Wired, Motherboard, Libération, Die Zeit, Arte TV, Next Nature, Hyperallergic, Le Temps,, Digicult, Gizmodo, Seattle Weekly,, and Filmmaker Magazine among others.