On the inside, the factory is more like a laboratory. No impurities here, though not all-white; instead, peppy colours (yellow, blue, tan) that could have come from Ikea. With its flat planes, immaculate surfaces, and a shop floor so highly polished even the toughest sar’nt-major would have to acknowledge his reflection, the place is pristine as a brand. But this ‘brand’ is not merely decorative; it’s the Hyundai plant at Ulsan (250 miles from Seoul), where cars get made by the million. Conveyed along the spotless track, ministered to by men and machines, slowly the vehicles take shape. Or they would, if production had not been suspended. Hyundai autoworkers are on strike for more pay, better hours, and the integration of subcontracted employees into the regular labour force. Outside the engine plant where the night shift is massing, we are back in another century. Neon lamps give off a sepia light in which the strikers and their clothes are grey and grainy. They way they look tonight, these workers have taken on a rough, old texture, as crude as the long, long poles they carry to keep the police at bay. But this is only an appearance, a trick of the light that shows people lagging behind the world they themselves have made. Or is it?
The body of a miner, nose and chin nuzzling into the crook of his own arm. Shot by the thin blue line, down on one knee to fire into a straggle of strikers, already regretting the heat of their action. Was this man comforting himself at the moment of death? More likely his head and arm arranged themselves arbitrarily, same as the other bodies strewn around at random. If only this were a Surrealists’ Convention, and they were suffering for their art.