Amalia Ulman’s video Buyer Walker Rover (Yiwu) Aka. There then subverts the nature of two different medias: First, how the privacy of a phone conversation between two girlfriends becomes a tell-all voiceover; secondly how the seemingly public selfie-stick vlogger style of filming, always confessional, becomes voyeuristic.
The video with its multiple subtitles in various languages (in Spanish, English, German, French, Thai, Russian, Igbo, Polish, Greek, Arabic, Korean, Japanese and Chinese) is a reflection of the city of Yiwu itself. The film portrays a place, where a cacophony of foreigners communicate to one another through translation apps, flirt with buying agents, complain about the food or how painful the massages are, ultimately dreading or loving China.
Through selfieapp-filtered videos and confessions, made using readily available domestic technologies, we learn about the protagonist Ana, who is a tankie nerdish fan of the Heavy Metal band Extremoduro. She is a Spaniard with an English philology degree who worked as a cashier in the local supermarket after finishing college. She married young and left for Guatemala, where her husband owns a few businesses, one of them a $1 store.
Every few months, Ana is sent to the Chinese City Yiwu to replenish the shelfs of one of the stores with stationary, plastic trinkets and toys. During one of these trips, she finds herself – disillusioned of life – in a dead-end, starting to fantasize about staying in China, becoming an English teacher, and never looking back. In phone conversations with her high-school friend, in Spanish (her native tongue), and an American colleague in English (an imposed second language), she talks about studying Chinese. For her, studying and adopting other languages is almost a given, and always connected with a new future, which she worries “is always somewhere else”.