Fulfillment Center, Pt. 1, at SPACES
I’ve wanted to see artistic commentary on Amazon’s pervasiveness for a long time. I’m certain that nearly everyone reading this has made a purchase from Amazon at some point in their lifetime (myself included). As I write this article, I’ve already looked out the window and watched the Amazon truck pass by my apartment building. Whether you’re an enthusiastic Prime member or you steadfastly resist the convenience of two-day shipping, there is no denying that at this point, Amazon is as ingrained into our society as breathing air.
Alexander Si, 2023 artist-in-residence at SPACES, is a multidisciplinary, project-based artist whose body of work exposes invisible labor, class and racial disparity, and the mental and behavioral repercussions of media and technology. Fulfillment Center, Pt. 1 examines the delivery portion of Amazon’s production chain. Si’s past projects include constructing a fake Sweetgreen in NYC’s Chinatown Soup gallery, a mock showroom titled 170 Forsyth advertising luxury condominiums, and other installations that interrogate popular culture and media.
Cleveland has no shortage of industrial spaces that make perfect sense for the vibe this New York-based artist is going for. The room in which the exhibition lives at SPACES is not all that different from a warehouse with its concrete floors, exposed pipes, and a reverberating echo. In fact, the space feels so much like a production facility that you might even walk in and wonder if you’re in the right place when the first thing you see is a cart stacked with brown cardboard packages. The piece, titled FC_Courier, is a contemporary take on readymade objects being repurposed in a gallery setting.
To the right of the cart is an abandoned, dirtied Amazon uniform. Seeing the uniform strewn about the floor is disconcerting. It leads us to wonder, “what happened here?” Further, we see only the empty uniform—not the person who wore it. In this way, Si removes the humanity from the clothing. The uniform represents a faceless, nameless worker.
Si created a map of Amazon fulfillment centers in Greater Cleveland that hangs on the wall beside the discarded uniform. The piece comes with instructions: pin your home address and connect and tie it to your closest Amazon Hub/Delivery Center/Fulfillment Center with a red thread. The resulting interaction shows the expansive reach of Amazon and its products. It shows us, to a limited extent, where our Amazon products are coming from. With its one-click purchasing platform, it can often feel as if Amazon’s products appear out of thin air, suddenly appearing at our doorstep the next day. In actuality, the journey is much longer, passing through many hands and crossing international and state borders to arrive safely in our mailrooms.
Si’s most impressive work is a twenty-channel video installation complete with sound. The videos display different stages of a ten-hour Amazon delivery shift in New York. You’ll recognize the same (or a very similar) cart and uniform. Again, we do not see the delivery person’s face. All we see is what they see: the street, the cart, their feet. The video fills the room with sound that adds to the illusion of being in a fulfillment center. We hear creaking wheels and periodic thudding as the cart goes over bumps. At one point, we hear the delivery person curse under their breath as they keep trekking forward. The video was created recently, in February 2023. The video shows the shift at different times of day, from dawn, to daytime, to dusk. Because all phases of the shift are shown simultaneously, the work is overwhelming to look at and listen to.
There is some irony in the title of the exhibition. While Si depicts the process of orders being fulfilled, we witness the day of an unnamed worker who does not seem fulfilled in the sense of being satisfied with life. The absence of the worker’s personhood and the grueling nature of the videos point more toward exhaustion and frustration than fulfillment. This exhibition is something different, and a worthy commentary on Amazon’s unavoidable presence in our everyday lives.
Alexander Si: Fulfillment Center, PT.1
February 24 – April 28, 2023
2900 Detroit Avenue
Noon – 5 pm Monday – Saturday.