October 31st, 2016

Fan Yang on fakes, pirates and shanzhai culture

By: Fan Yang, Jeremy Goldkorn and Kaiser Kuo    Source: Sinica Podcast      Date: 22/9/2016


Fakes, knockoffs, pirate goods, counterfeits: China is notorious as the global manufacturing center of all things ersatz. But in the first decade after the People’s Republic joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, a particular kind of knockoff began to capture the public imagination: products that imitate but do not completely replicate the designs, functions, technology, logos and names of existing branded products. An old Chinese word meaning “mountain fortress” — shanzhai — was repurposed to describe this type of knockoff.

Chinese internet users began to use the word shanzhai with a degree of approval. This was partly because shanzhai products, though aping the designs and names of established brands, often add innovations that the originals lack. This is particularly notable with mobile phones, the shanzhai versions of which were among the first to feature more than one camera lens and the capacity to use two SIM cards from different networks. Starting around 2008, the creativity and speed of release of such knockoff products began to be discussed as a type of innovation with Chinese characteristics and a creative approach suited to a poor country developing at breakneck speed.

This episode of Sinica is a conversation about shanzhai and the whole universe of Chinese knockoff culture with Fan Yang, an assistant professor in the Department of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of the book Faked in China: Nation Branding, Counterfeit Culture, and Globalization. You can read the SupChina backgrounder here.

October 20th, 2016

Party Paper Commentary Calls for Emoji Regulations

People’s Daily says the language used in chat app stickers should be standardized

By: Kevin Schoenmakers            Source: Sixth Tone              Date: 18/10/2016

commentary in party-affiliated newspaper People’s Daily on Saturday called for the regulation of “stickers,” or emojis, single-frame memes, and animated GIFs used in chat apps.

The article was published in the paper’s “Learn Chinese” section of its Chinese-language overseas edition. It argued that the slang language used in many stickers can be confusing to people who study Chinese, and pointed to their sometimes erotic or violent content.

Many popular Chinese messaging apps have extensive features that allow users to send each other stickers. Market leader WeChat, for example, regularly introduces new sticker sets — some of which need to be paid for — and users can also share their own creations.

One popular user-created set of stickers, or biaoqing bao, are caricatures based on the expressions and reactions of Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui during post-competition interviews. Fu speaks with an accent, and the stickers feature captions that make explicit her slight mispronunciations.

Stickers based on Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui, some of which feature captions with ‘non-standard’ Chinese. @DingyichenDYC from Weibo

Stickers based on Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui, some of which feature captions with ‘non-standard’ Chinese. @DingyichenDYC from Weibo Continue reading

Oxford Seminar on Visual Culture in Modern and Contemporary China

This year the University of Oxford China Centre will be hosting a seminar series that focuses on visual culture in modern and contemporary China. Convened by Prof. Margaret Hillenbrand, the seminars will bring together a diverse range of scholars to discuss topics including visual culture in Maoist China, the films of Jia Zhangke, Photography and Privacy in China and Contemporary Chinese Performance (to name but a few). The full list of speakers and topics is listed below and the seminars are open to the public. I will be presenting some new research next May in a talk entitled ‘Modelling Marx: Technologies of Engagement and Automation in Contemporary Art’.


October 13th, 2016

Getting digi with it: why new media art still hasn’t fully gone mainstream

As new technology is increasingly adopted by artists, can curators and collectors keep up?

By: Jane Morris           Source: The Art Newspaper    Date: 7/10/2016

Getting digi with it: why new media art still hasn't fully gone mainstream

James Bridle’s Cloud Index (2016) uses satellite weather data to predict polling outcomes. Courtest the artist and booktwo.org
Artists working in “new” media have never been so widely admired—a generation of artists in their 20s and 30s, including Amalia Ulman, Neil Beloufa, Ian Cheng, Jon Rafman and Cécile B. Evans, are now shown internationally. Exhibitions have also moved beyond specialist kunsthallen such as ZKM in Karlsruhe, V2 in Rotterdam and YCam in Yamaguchi, Japan. Digital art was the subject of a major show, Electronic Superhighway, at the Whitechapel Gallery in London this spring, and the focus of this summer’s Berlin Biennale. Meanwhile, the New Museum in New York, which has digital art specialists Rhizome in residence, is working with the Hong Kong-based K11 Art Foundation on an exhibition on art and technology, due to be shown in China next year.

Yet a quarter of a century after the emergence of digital art, it continues to raise challenges for museums, galleries and collectors. As the Serpentine Galleries in London reveal their third digital commission, James Bridle’s Cloud Index, we look at some of the reasons why digital art is still not fully in the mainstream.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

The artist: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer believes that artists must professionalise their practice. Collectors worry about how to value a work that can be copied multiple times, and how to deal with works built using software that effectively disappears subsequently because of rapid updating. Lozano-Hemmer has become a powerful advocate for addressing these issues before a work is sold. “When you acquire one of my works you get a bill of materials, and it says this work is made out of this screen, this motor, this software and so on, and it tells you if this is replaceable, and if yes, what are the constraints.” He regularly attends conservation conferences, has drafted best-practice guidelines for artists, and is developing business models to encourage studios to offer conservation support for their own work.

Benjamin Weil. Photo: Sergio Redruello

Benjamin Weil. Photo: Sergio Redruello

The museum director: Benjamin Weil

Benjamin Weil, the artistic director at the Botín Centre in Santander, Spain, argues that the issues surrounding new media art are not fundamentally different from the problems of conceptual art. Museums have been left with problems because they acquired works in the past without establishing with artists how to deal with decay and obsolescence—combined with institutions’ ingrained resistance “to accepting sometimes you have to let a work die”. The crucial issue now, Weil says, is that contemporary artists do not compound the situation. “Artists using technology can’t say, ‘It’s not our responsibility to take care of the work, it’s yours.’ We in museums have to say, ‘We can’t look after the work without you: we want to be sure that whatever decision we are going to make will not betray you.’”

Ben Vickers. Photo: courtesy of Serpentine Gallery

Ben Vickers. Photo: courtesy of Serpentine Gallery

The digital commissioner: Ben Vickers

Ben Vickers is the curator of digital at the Serpentine Galleries in London, which has just launched its latest commission, a complex work on the nature of the cloud and voting patterns by the journalist, writer and artist James Bridle. Vickers says that digital commissions present particular challenges. Curators with “a comprehensive understanding” of technology are rare, which can add extra risk to projects. “This gallery has years of experience of making exhibitions. But when you are working with an artist and they need someone who knows about epigenetics and can also write code, that’s not something that most art museums know how to deal with. Digital curators have to build their own networks with the tech world and universities to find the help they need.”

Steven Sacks © Michael Clinard Photography 2015.

Steven Sacks © Michael Clinard Photography 2015.

The commercial gallery: Steven Sacks

Steven Sacks is the founder of bitforms gallery, one of the earliest to specialise in new media. He says that although work by top digital artists still fetches lower prices than pieces by equivalent painters in traditional media (“which are exponentially more expensive”), it can also represent an opportunity. “Computational, screen-based, interactive media is the most exciting development in the past five to ten years,” he says. “It is still a challenge because the market for this work is smaller than for traditional work: but it is the next big leap forward in the way artists can present their ideas.” He also says the emergence of high quality yet more affordable 4K screens is proving attractive to collectors.

Lisa Schiff, art advisor, Schiff Fine Art

Lisa Schiff, art advisor, Schiff Fine Art

The art adviser: Lisa Schiff

Lisa Schiff is a New York- and Los Angeles-based art adviser with a strong interest in digital art. She is sanguine about looking after the work, as long as artists provide good documentation. “It’s not like scraping a painting, which—although you have to repair it—is forever tarnished. If there is a glitch with a digital work, working on the mechanics doesn’t affect the value.” She says that there is a strong primary market for Cory Arcangel, Ian Cheng and others, but she has only two collectors acquiring this kind of work in depth. The issue, she says, is that “there isn’t really a secondary market”. But, she says, “It took 150 years for there to be a market for photography. It might be hard for us to get our heads around it now, but it won’t always be this way.”

Anita Zabludowicz with artwork by Kelley Walker. London. Picture: David Bebber

Anita Zabludowicz with artwork by Kelley Walker. London. Picture: David Bebber

The collector: Anita Zabludowicz

The British collector Anita Zabludowicz (who calls the dedicated German collector Julia Stoschek her “digital sister”) has mounted a number of digital shows, including this year’s Emotional Supply Chains at the Zabludowicz Collection in London. She began collecting the work of Pipilotti Rist in the 1990s and more recently has focused on artists such as Jon Rafman, Cécile B. Evans, Ed Atkins and Rachel Maclean. Museums have not, she believes, paid enough attention to digital “because not all curators have recognised the full potential of the virtual world as an art form”. She supports Daata Editions, which commissions digital works and then sells them in larger editions than the art gallery norm, meaning prices start at as little as $100. “We hope to change the mentality of the art lover,” she says, “encouraging people to use their smart electronic devices to seek out digital art in the same way they would seek out new music or TV.”

Continue reading