Inner Package is made up of 12 slick-looking bubbles, seven of them on white walls. Tveit has installed the others at varying heights throughout the gallery space. These hang from the ceiling, creating a dynamic and shifting space as they gently move in the ambient air. Tveit has routed the text out of the bubbles, so the exhibition creates a shorthand narrative. All but one of the pieces have Mandarin Chinese translations of the text inside the bubble. Traveling around the room, the first seven text bubbles read: "more"; "a lot more"; "at what cost?"; "I'm American"; "is it far?"; "inner package"; and "customer satisfaction."
According to Tveit, the works look at the complexities of America's relationship with China as the producer of goods that Americans consume. Despite China's new power in the world economy, Tveit suggests that its factory class still suffers.
Tveit is a professor of industrial design at the University of Kansas. Her work emphasizes design's meanings and how those meanings emerge from histories and cultures and then reflect back out at the world. The bubbles themselves are aesthetically pleasing: clean white with a simple sans-serif font. The cutout English text and Chinese characters make the bubbles seem light and airy. Tveit hopes that, by immersing themselves in the text of the installation, viewers will engage in a cultural and economic conversation.
Though the seven pieces on the white walls create a narrative, other bubbles pop open a specific experience for Tveit: "bratz dolls" (the only bubble without a Mandarin translation) and "earbuds" refer to the Chinese factories that make these toys and headphones Tveit has visited the factories and met the workers.
"I'm interested in the life-line and lifecycle of products. How they are made, who makes them, how many people actually touched this object prior to my purchase," Tveit explains in an e-mail to me.
When she buys an object, she wonders, "Am I helping or hindering that culture?" Most people, she continues, "think that most things are made automatically by machines and computers.... The fact is that they are made by people, by hand, with the assistance of machines."
Tveit is more drawn to the human condition than the minimal work in this exhibition suggests. "China has become the world's factory," she says. "Traditional culture is disappearing. People are displaced from their families to work in the factory regions. Villages are left with young children being raised by their grandparents. Families send their young daughters to work in the factories to support their families and the educations of their brothers. The entire structure of society is shifting and changing."
Tveit's thought bubbles remind us that entire economies, societies, histories, cultures and peoples are embedded in the conversations we have and the things we buy.