April 29th, 2016

Are There New Limits for Artists in China?

By: Adam Minter                 Source: Bloomberg View          Date: 24/4/2016


Last fall, Papi Jiang, a 29-year-old graduate student in Beijing, began posting short, satirical and occasionally profane monologues about daily life in urban China to social media. Within a couple of months, she’d racked up tens of millions of views, earned nearly $2 million in private funding and raised hopes that online celebrities might offer a new revenue stream for China’s Internet companies.

Then, last week, it all ended: Papi Jiang’s videos abruptly disappeared.

According to an editorial in People’s Daily, the official paper of the Communist Party, Papi Jiang raised two concerns. First, she used foul language, a practice out of sync with President Xi Jinping’s new effortto create a “healthy, positive culture” in cyberspace. More important, she offered a high-profile example of how online media is becoming more influential than the traditional outlets that Chinese authorities have long kept a watchful eye on. Continue reading

New TORCH network on the #SocialHumanities


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I’m very excited to be part of a new TORCH network on the #SocialHumanities. TORCH sponsors up to ten new interdisciplinary networks each year, with current projects ranging from Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers to the Celebrity Research Network. You can learn more about all of these networks here. The #SocialHumanities network aims to bring together researchers working across the humanities to debate and discuss the impact of social media on the way we study, work, interact, live and learn. We will be organising a range of events, workshops and seminars over the coming year that bring a diverse body of students, non-academic partners, researchers and  enthusiasts together with the aim of fostering knowledge exchange and skills sharing. I will be organising several events next year which will pay particular attention to how visual imagery circulates online and the role of embeddable videos, photographs and digital media in social media networks. My co-convenors on the project are Yin Yin Lu of the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and Dr. Kathryn Eccles also of the OII. I have included the network description below and more information (with details of upcoming events) can be found here.


“Social media never sleeps. Every minute of every day, 347,222 tweets are sent, 4,166,667 Facebook posts are liked, 300 hours of new YouTube videos are uploaded, 284,722 Snapchat images are shared, and 1,041,666 videos are played on Vine. These numbers have increased dramatically every year, and will only keep increasing. There is heightened demand for academics of all disciplines to develop methodologies and theories to make sense of this data explosion.

Nested in the ever-evolving and ever-expanding field of the digital humanities, the #SocialHumanities network explores the implications of social media for society, from platform design and usage to the volumes of data generated. How can we interpret such vast volumes of data, both quantitatively and qualitatively, while maintaining a humanistic perspective? How have social media platforms altered our language and behaviours? What are the methodological challenges and ethical issues that arise in the analysis of social media data? How do images (and other cultural objects) spread on social media, and how are they (re)appropriated? How can social media analytics help cultural institutions better understand their engagement with audiences? What is the value of social media for society? What are the dangers?

There are many unanswered questions, and more will emerge as the network grows. The establishment of #SocialHumanities allows humanities scholars to more actively join in the conversations that social and computational scientists have initiated around these concerns. There is strong need for a more qualitative interpretation of social media data (especially data that is non-textual, such as images and videos), and for the integration of qualitative and quantitative approaches. This network allows humanities scholars to engage with not only a vast range of other disciplines in Oxford, from Cybersecurity to Physics, but also with many non-academic partners, both internal and external to the University. Its aims are to foster highly interdisciplinary knowledge exchange and skills sharing, promote and improve mixed methods research, stimulate interaction between academics and non-academics (in particular, companies that work with social media data), develop methodologies for the analysis of social media data, and enhance theoretical frameworks used for such analysis.”

If you have any questions about #SocialHumanities, event ideas, speaker suggestions, or are interested in becoming a member, please contact one of the convenors: Yin Yin Lu (yin.lu@oii.ox.ac.uk), Kathryn Eccles (kathryn.eccles@oii.ox.ac.uk), Ros Holmes (ros.holmes@history.ox.ac.uk).


Dislocations: Remapping Art Histories

Staircase-III 2010 by Do Ho Suh born 1962

Staircase-III 2010 Do Ho Suh born 1962 Purchased with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2011 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T13344

On the 3rd and 4th December last year I attended Tate Modern’s conference on Dislocations: Remapping Art Histories, organised by the Tate Research Centre, Asia-Pacific. The two day event featured a fantastic array of artists, curators and academics addressing questions on performance, socially engaged practice and the methodological rethinking of the Western-centrism of 20th century art histories. As Tate Modern notes: “Topics included environmental art and performance in Japan in the 1960s, performance and its relationship to installation art in the Philippines in the 1970s, transnational and multivalent character of Modernism’s centres such as Paris and Mumbai, the effect of the internet and social networking technologies in contemporary Chinese art and the ‘social’ legacy of the socialist era in contemporary practice in China.”

The video recordings from the conference are now available to view online, so for anyone that was unable to attend the event I thought I would include a link here to the final session, on ‘Contemporary Art and the Social’ as it addresses themes which are extremely pertinent to online visual culture.

The other two sessions can also be watched by following the links below. Lee Ambrozy’s talk on ‘An Expanded Definition of Performance Art in China’ in session 1 is a fascinating talk which is definitely worth watching. The full conference programme is available to download here.


April 7th, 2016

As China Evolves, the Artist Cao Fei Is Watching

By: Barbara Pollack           Source: New York Times           Date: 1/4/2016

02CAOFEI-master675Fresh off the plane from Art Basel Hong Kong this week, the Chinese artist Cao Fei was stationed at MoMA PS1, ready to supervise the installation of her first United States museum retrospective. At 37, she seemed too young to warrant an extensive survey. Dressed in a black hoodie and fashionable striped pants, Ms. Cao could have been one of the characters in her early videos, teenagers influenced by hip-hop culture or 20-somethings costumed as Japanese manga characters.

But the artist — often described by the art world as the embodiment of the new China — has been on the scene internationally for nearly 20 years, with featured spots at the Tate Modern in London and the Venice Biennale. She has managed to encapsulate her country’s societal shifts through multimedia works, photographs, films and sculptures. And a stroll through the exhibition, which opens on Saturday, is both a tour and a critique of contemporary China, its rapid urbanization and the impact globalization has had on it.

“Cao Fei visualizes the tension that a person of her age has to face in China on a daily level,” said Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1, who has worked with her throughout her career and who organized the exhibition, “Cao Fei,” which runs through Aug. 31. “It is important for a New York audience to find out that you can find someone as cutting-edge in Beijing as you can here.”

The story of Ms. Cao contrasts two generations of Chinese artists. Her father, Cao Chong’en, was an accomplished realist sculptor whose statues of leaders from Mao to Deng Xiaoping appear throughout China. Coming from a landowner family that suffered greatly after the 1949 revolution, he learned to do what he was told and make whatever the Communist Party required.

Cao Fei (pronounced TSOW fay) rebelled against that kind of art. She was born in 1978 in Guangzhou, a port city northwest of Hong Kong on the Pearl River and the manufacturing center of China. It opened to Western investors far earlier than cities in the north of the country. And she grew up absorbing the various influences that flooded her hometown and focused on creating art that examined China’s economic boom. She gained attention early from prominent European curators before being seen at home, thus bypassing some of the obstacles usually encountered by female artists in China.

A portrait of China Tracy, Cao Fei’s Second Life avatar. CreditVitamin Creative Space 


“She was really fresh and really young, but you could feel her potential to be an incredibly unique artist in that she approached the youth culture in a very contemporary way,” said Hou Hanru, artistic director of Maxxi, National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, in Rome, who met Ms. Cao when she was still a 21-year-old student at the Guangzhou Art Academy. Struck by her ability to both reflect and interpret a China in flux, he requested her first video, “Imbalance 257,” for an exhibition in Spain.

Named for part of her address while living in the dormitory in Guangzhou, “Imbalance 257” (1999) loosely tells the story of a group of Chinese students confused about what the future holds after art school. It is a combination of documentary and drama, interspersed with Communist revolutionary graphics and Japanese animation.

“When I got the phone call from him, asking for my C.V., I was so excited,” Ms. Cao recalled, speaking English with the help of an interpreter, this week at the museum. “It was the first time I received an international call. I had no Internet, I had no email, I did not speak English and I didn’t have a résumé. I had to ask my classmates for help with translation.”

Continue reading