‘Asia as Method: Transnational Research in the Museum’ at Tate Modern on 6–7 December 2018.

‘Asia as Method: Transnational Research in the Museum’, Tate Modern 6–7th December 2018.

 

Tate invites scholars and curators to apply for funding to attend the symposium ‘Asia as Method: Transnational Research in the Museum’ at Tate Modern on 6–7 December 2018.

Deadline for applications:
26 October 2018, 5pm GMT

Nalini Malani, Gamepieces 2003/2009 © Nalini Malani
Nalini Malani
Gamepieces 2003/2009
© Nalini Malani

This international symposium, hosted by Tate Research Centre: Asia, represents the culmination of a six-year research project at Tate. Established in 2012 following a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Tate Research Centre: Asia has sought to deepen awareness of Tate’s growing international collection by developing access, public understanding and critical interpretation of Asian art. This symposium will provide the opportunity to hear from the centre’s researchers, who have worked on varied projects that have been committed to furthering the documentation, acquisition and display of modern and contemporary Asian art at Tate.

This funding will allow early career scholars and curators to hear from specialists in the field of Asian art and to meet with a broad network of researchers, scholars and curators.

Participants in the travel grant programme will receive funds sufficient to cover their travel costs and three nights’ accommodation in London within a set criteria.

To apply, please send a CV and cover letter (400 words) in PDF format indicating how attending this symposium will benefit your work and send it via email to trc.asia@tate.org.uk by 26 October 2018, 5pm GMT.

The selected candidates will be notified by 9 November 2018.

Winner of the BACS Early Career Researcher Prize

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Left to right: 2016 winner Pamela Hunt, Ros Holmes and JBACS editor, Sarah Dauncey

 

I’m delighted to announce that I have been awarded the British Association of Chinese Studies (BACS) Early Career Researcher Prize. The prize was awarded at the BACS annual conference which was held this year at Kings College, London.

I was awarded the prize for my essay ‘Bad Citizens and Symbolic Subjects: Wang Jin, Zhou Tiehai and the Art of (In)Civility’ which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of the British Association of Chinese Studies.  The essay is an excerpt from my current book project, The Art of (In)civility: Rudeness and Representation in Postsocialist China.

The British Association for Chinese Studies Early Career Researcher Prize, was established in 2016 to:

  • stimulate new research in arts, humanities and social sciences on traditional and modern China;
  • recognise excellence in the field of Chinese Studies;
  • promote early career researchers in the field.

I’m really honoured to receive this award and would like to thank the BACS committee for providing this wonderful platform for early career researchers such as myself to share their work with the wider China studies community.

 

 

August 23rd, 2018

How WeChat became China’s everyday mobile app

By: Iris Deng, Celia Chen       Source: SCMP       Date: 16/8/2018

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Many people outside China either still haven’t heard of WeChat or they think it’s the country’s equivalent of popular messaging service WhatsApp or social media giant Facebook. For many people in China, WeChat is much more – it is not an overstatement to say it’s an indispensable part of their everyday lives.

WeChat, or Weixin as it’s known in China, began life in a southern corner of the country at the Tencent Guangzhou Research and Project centre in October 2010. Since then, it has grown into the most popular mobile app in the country with over 1 billion monthly active users who chat, play games, shop, read news, pay for meals and post their thoughts and pictures. Today, you can even book a doctor’s appointment or arrange a time slot to file for a divorce at the civil affairs authority.

 

The seven-year-old app has also laid the foundations for stellar growth at Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, the tech giant behind WeChat, turning it into one of the most influential companies in China and grabbing the attention of global investors. Since the official launch of WeChat in January 2011, Tencent’s market capitalisation has risen over tenfold.

Yet, the company has hit a speed bump. Tencent has lost 29 per cent since a peak of HK$476.6 a share in January this year to trade at HK$336, erasing US$170 billion from its market value as of Wednesday’s close. Even before this sharp fall, some commentators had been asking whether Tencent has “lost its dream”, by focusing on growth through investment rather than the type of organic innovation that led to the creation of WeChat.

After the market close on Wednesday, Tencent reported a 2 per cent drop in second-quarter profit on lower gaming revenue and investment-related gains. Net income fell to 17.9 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion) in the quarter ended June 30, compared with the 19.3 billion yuan average of 12 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales were 73.7 billion yuan, missing analyst estimates.

Tencent’s overseas counterpart Facebook, with 1.47 billion daily active users (DAU) and 2.23 billion monthly active users (MAU), experienced a stock price loss of over 20 per cent after announcing its slowest quarterly user growth since 2011 in its second quarter earnings report in July.

Cautious to avoid flooding user timelines with ads, WeChat currently allows a maximum of two ads a day to appear on its social platform Moments, which is “extremely conservative compared to our global peers” said Tencent’s Chief Strategy Officer James Gordon Mitchell in a May conference call with analysts.

“With improving targeting capability, opening up of inventory and roll-out of ad formats, we expect increasing dollar shift to social performance-based advertising, of which Tencent … should be the key beneficiary,” Jefferies analyst Karen Chan wrote in a research note in July.

Other analysts are also optimistic on WeChat’s prospects.

“[WeChat’s user numbers] haven’t hit the ceiling yet but I think they will at some point,” said Matthew Brennan, managing director of independent WeChat consultancy China Channel. “But they still have a lot of room to grow in advertising, and now with mini programs.”

Mini programs refer to applications typically smaller than 10 megabytes that can run instantly on the main app’s interface. They offer speed of access to users because a program does not have to be downloaded from an app store, they can run from within the app. This innovation allows platforms to host multiple services, turning them into super-apps, delivering greater convenience to consumers in the world’s largest smartphone market.

Mini programs are aimed at keeping users within the WeChat ecosystem, at a time when short video apps are on the rise. In June, the percentage of time spent on messaging apps among mobile users declined from 36 to 30.2 per cent compared to the same time last year, while time spent on short video apps rose from 2 to 8.8 per cent, according to figures provided by internet data services provider QuestMobile in July.

However, mini programs are just the latest in a long line of innovations at Tencent’s WeChat.

When Tencent’s flagship messaging service QQ was the dominant player in social media in China, Tencent founder, chairman and CEO Ma Huateng [know as Pony Ma] did not rest on his laurels. He spotted the inevitable shift in traffic from PCs to mobile internet in 2010, as smartphones led by Apple’s iPhone, gained in popularity. Ma knew that a mobile instant messenger would be the key to the future.

Allen Zhang, the head of QQ Mail Mobile in 2010, led a team with less than 10 members to develop the first version of WeChat in less than 70 days, beating out two other internal teams working on the same project. Zhang joined Tencent in 2005 when his Foxmail business was bought by Tencent and became the head of QQ Mail Mobile.

“WeChat is a strategically important platform for Tencent because it will help to sustain and evolve our social leadership from PC to newer mobile devices,” Martin Lau, president of Tencent, said in a conference call in 2011.

Tencent provided information about WeChat’s latest developments but did not make executives, including Allen Zhang, available for interviews for this article. The South China Morning Post reviewed conference call transcripts, filings, public speeches and local reports dating back to 2010 in researching the development of WeChat for this story.

The first version of WeChat only allowed users to send text messages and photos. The launch received little response from the market, at a time when instant messengers such as Feixin, an SMS app by China Mobile, and MiTalk Messenger by Xiaomi, were already on the scene.

“It cannot send a short message to someone’s phone number (like Feixin). It does not have the functionality of QQ. What’s the meaning of having this app,” one user wrote in the comments section on WeChat’s iOS app store page seven years ago, rating WeChat one star.

The inflection point for the WeChat team arrived in May 2011 when it was updated with voice messaging, enabling a user’s phone to work like a walkie-talkie. Daily user growth spurted from 10,000 to up to 60,000.

“The voice message [function] turned senior businesspeople who weren’t used to typing on smartphones into our WeChat users,” Ma recalled in a speech in Tsinghua in 2016.

WeChat evolved quickly, including new functions such as ‘Shake’, which connected users who were randomly shaking their phone at the same time, and ‘Message in a Bottle’, which enabled messages to be sent to random users.

In July 2011, it added location-based service ‘People Nearby’ that allowed users to connect with strangers close to them. In Zhang’s words, this was a “game changer” and pushed daily user growth to 100,000.

“Shake and Message in a Bottle as well as People Nearby were born at the right time, offering access to different people,” said Lu Shushen, a former WeChat employee in an article on his WeChat account, referring to social networking among strangers.

By March 2012, WeChat had exceeded 100 million registered user accounts – just 433 days after launch.

WeChat users grew in tandem with smartphone growth in China. In 2010, when WeChat was still a research project, there were only 36.1 million smartphone unit sales in China. That number increased to 90.6 million in 2011 when WeChat was officially launched and had rocketed to 214.2 million by 2012.

But WeChat was growing even faster than this and was gradually leaving its competitors further behind. Feixin, for example, was reluctant to open up its messaging service to non-China Mobile users and MiTalk struggled to provide a stable user experience.

WhatsApp, WeChat’s biggest overseas rival today, was available to the Chinese market at that time [it was later banned by China in 2017 ahead of a major Communist Party congress] but missed its opportunity without any localisation or promotion in the market, China Channel’s Brennan recalls.

WeChat was also evolving into a hybrid social network, with the introduction of its sharing service Moments, the blog-like Official Accounts to help brands and content producers market themselves, and a games publishing platform.

WeChat added payments to the platform in 2013, and for a while this was limited to paying for games, virtual items and services such as mobile subscriptions. But when ‘Official Accounts’ were added to WeChat in 2013, Tencent’s management were hoping that this would transform WeChat into a full service platform.

Any WeChat user can set up an Official Account to broadcast messages and articles to their followers like a blog, but brands and service providers can also use these accounts to service customers. Today users can buy products, order meals or make a doctor’s appointment – among many other things through this channel.

However, while WeChat Pay got off to a relatively slow start, the game was about to change in a major way.

Before the Lunar New Year of 2014, Tencent co-founder Tony Zhang assigned a WeChat team member to improve the way Tencent traditionally handed out hongbao – red envelopes with money inside as a gift for Lunar New Year – to staff. As a result, the WeChat Red Packet was developed as a way to send “virtual” money to friends.

WeChat’s Red Packet became an overnight sensation during the 2014 holiday period with over 8 million Chinese receiving over 40 million hongbaos during the period, leading Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma to dub it the “attack on Pearl Harbour”. Users started to tie their bank accounts to their WeChat mobile wallet and it started to compete with Alipay – an already established mobile payments service from Alibaba Group Holding, parent of the South China Morning Post.

In 2018, 688 million people used WeChat’s hongbao service on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

Which brings the story back to WeChat’s mini programs. By enabling greater functionality within the WeChat ecosystem without the need to download an external app, mini programs are aimed at driving customer loyalty, or stickiness, within the WeChat app.

“We view mini programs as an enhancement of our Official Accounts system, designed to connect offline service providers with users online,” Tencent’s Lau said in 2017.

The concept of mini programs did not fully take off until January 2018 though when Tiao Yi Tiao, a jumping mini game, recorded 100 million daily active users after being launched in late December.

“We have had our ups and downs this year, but in general, I think we have met our initial expectations,” said Tony Zhang in a January interview in the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece.

By the second quarter of 2018, the number of WeChat mini programs reached one million and mini program users surpassed 600 million in June this year.

“The mini program initiative is opening many doors for Tencent,” said China Channel’s Brennan. “Monetisation due to adverts and payments … and by allowing [Tencent] to incubate and accelerate a variety of businesses within the ecosystem – e-commerce in particular.”

 

August 6th, 2018

Keywords in Chinese Internet Subcultures

 

By: Mei Jia     Source: China Daily       Date: 18/7/2018

 

Cover of The Book of Wallbreaking: Keywords in Chinese InternetSubcultures. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A new book tries to make sense of what the younger generation is saying, Mei Jia reports.

Peking University associate professor Shao Yanjun, 50, is not the first one to discover that the younger generation, growing up with smart devices and the internet, actually use a different language when they are online, and sometimes, offline too, which is not easy to understand for her and her peers.

Therefore she has become the first to direct and guide her doctoral and master’s students to write a book about keywords in Chinese internet subcultures.

A pioneer and established scholar on internet culture/literature studies, Shao began to give lectures on the campus about web novels and online literature in 2011. However, outside class, she felt at loss.

“Their language differed from what they used in class, and I noticed jargon,” she says.

“And sometimes the phrases seemed to be standard Chinese that you’re familiar with, but referred to different things,” she adds.

Shao tried to follow up by frequently checking on search engines before she reluctantly used the language herself when chatting with her students, while being “lectured” by the young people.

Continue reading

Miao Ying’s ‘Happily Contained’ at Art Night London

 

For this year’s ‘Art Night London’ Miao Ying created a new VR piece called Happily Contained, an interactive installation that appropriates ubiquitous online imagery to probe the mediated nature of our contemporary digital existences. Deconstructing the iconography of the ‘American Dream’ in all its technicolour, patriotic and kitsch glory, the piece offered a thought provoking meditation on the making and selling of national ideologies and their online afterlives in the data streams of global mass media. Displayed in the show room of a new housing development, visitors were directed to the marketing suite of the Embassy Gardens, where they were invited to don VR headsets in the plush surrounds of a fantasy home. Apparently the location was deliberately selected not just for its close proximity to the American Embassy, but also as it mirrors “how tech companies push branded lifestyles with targeted advertising, by tracking and monetising their users’ data.” In many ways it reminded me of the pop up exhibitions staged in many of the showrooms of Beijing’s luxury housing developments- and the often disquieting disconnect between the aspirational lifestyles being marketed to urban consumers and the human, environmental and social impact of these developments.

NEW GEOGRAPHIES OF VISUAL SATIRE- Friday 15th June, Sir Michael Dummett Lecture Theatre, Christ Church, University of Oxford.

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This Friday 15th June I’m co-convening a conference on ‘New Geographies of Visual Satire’ with Dr. Julia Langbein.

The conference seeks to broaden the examination of visual satire beyond the contours of existing scholarship. How can we develop new approaches to parody, pastiche and caricature appropriate to a truly global art history? It has often been claimed that satire plays an important role in a healthy democracy and a vital role in an endangered one. How does it respond to the exigencies of a so-called ‘post-truth’ society? For too long, academics have seen visual satire as means of speaking “truth-to- power,” of indicating a moral or ethical True North. Perhaps our contemporary experience of the uncertain compass of “post-truth” politics can loosen old coordinates and inspire new historical inquiry. How has the rise of new media affected the ability of satire to confront ethical ambiguity and authorial inauthenticity? How have new means of image-circulation reversed centre-periphery dynamics and the flow of comic imagery from the West to the ‘rest’?

We have a very exciting lineup of speakers who will address issues as diverse as visual satire in feminist comics, the locust as visual satire in sinophone Hong Kong, Caricature, beer and the Franco-Prussian War to remediation in Egyptian digital caricatures. No registration is required and all are welcome.

Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) Annual Conference, Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization

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On Saturday I attended the Royal Anthropological Institute’s (RAI) Annual Conference, which was held at the British Museum and SOAS and this year addressed the theme of ‘Art, Materiality and Representation‘. Along with Emilie Lefebvre, a post-doctoral researcher in visual anthropology, we convened a panel on ‘Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization‘. The aim of the panel was to examine the practices by which artists and media-makers from non-Western contexts are progressively re-materializing digital content in order to increase the exclusivity, cultural capital, and visibility of their aesthetic and cultural creations.

At a time in which our experience of cultural artefacts is often physically removed by digitization, this panel seeks papers that consider the practices, politics, and affects of re-materializing artworks from diverse geographical perspectives. The process of de- to re-materialization has been referred to by David Joselit as a ‘comedy of matter’; a situation in which the most ”immaterial” of formats—digital information—has paradoxically led to a proliferation of material states. This metastasizing of media formats can in effect render a quantum of data into a printed photograph, a 3-D print or an analogue sculpture, facilitating a variety of practices from bootlegging and creative appropriation to the return of cultural heritage. These processes of re-materialization have subsequently led to the formation of ‘agile objects’: cultural artefacts whose value may have originally resided in their authentic forms but today are revered for their capacity as digital files to take on several distinct forms simultaneously.

While these practices among artists, media-makers and museums have been the focus of increasing scholarly attention, their theorization and prevalence beyond Western contexts remains largely unexplored. Redressing this imbalance, we premise that art historical and anthropological examinations of re-materialization can provide unique perspectives about the politics of cultural capital from the Near East to East Asia, Australia to Latin America. This multi-disciplinary panel therefore invites papers that consider the transposition of digital content into objects of material, commercial and collectable value, exploring the capacity of these ‘agile objects’ to shape artistic and museum practices.

Our panel critically addressed re-materialization from an interdisciplinary perspective with papers exploring

* The value ascribe to digital models of Māori taonga

* The material loss and recreation of the Great Auk within the context of the Anthropocene

* The notion of noise and materalization of womanhood in South Africa

* The material configuration of nude bodies in modern Chinese art

* The re-materialization of endangered plants from around the world

With this vast scope, we had a very lively discussion on re-materialization and the capacity of ‘agile objects’ to shape artistic and museum practices in non-Western contexts.

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Jennifer Cattermole from the University of Otago discusses the implications of re-materialising taonga pūoro (traditional Māori musical instruments)

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Artist Darlene Farris-LaBar discussing how emerging technology brings greater opportunities for artists who are seeking new ways to communicate to larger and diverse audiences.

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Di Wang from the University of Oxford discusses the materiality of the body in modern Chinese art and visual culture, 1919-1949.

 

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Arnar Árnason (University of Aberdeen) and Gro Ween (University of Oslo) presented a paper on ‘Species extinction: art, materiality and the representation of material loss in the age of the Anthropocene’

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Some of Darlene Farris Labar’s amazing 3-D printed seed pods

 

Liu Shiyuan’s ‘As Simple as Clay’: Photography and the Aesthetics of the Search Engine

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In 2013, Liu Shiyuan created ‘As Simple as Clay’ a large scale photographic installation composed of over 2500 individual photographs (c-prints), each measuring 20 x 21cm. Presented in the high modern aesthetic of the grid and visually riffing on the algorithmic aesthetic of the search engine, the installation offered a seemingly endless profusion of photographic variations on a single theme: Clay.

Moving through the identically dimensioned photographic spread, one which visually asserts the infinite multiplicity of digital files in our current information age, the viewer is confronted not just with endless images of clay but also photographs of a vast array of clay-like objects: still shots of blocks of butter, lumps of putty, round spherical balls of dough, bars of glistening soap, the wobbling sheen of a pana cotta, translucent cubes of tofu, as well as objects which seem to bear little or no relation to clay, images that are seemingly random, anomalous even: the viscous gloss of liquefied chocolate, plumped cushions, loafs of bread, modelling tools, cosmetic foundation, these sit side by side with photographs of hands engaged with clay: fingers kneading, sculpting and shaping, raw material twisting under the exertion of being physically shaped, contoured, carved and cast. Some images merely show the trace of human activity, the indexical mark of a fingerprint or the ghostly imprint of an absent knuckle, a gloved finger rolling a clay penny, two hands clasped in a tentative handshake.

All these images were scavenged entirely from the internet, the result of the artist entering the term ‘clay’ into Google image search, originally in Chinese, then in English, Danish and an ever expanding host of languages, noting the visual variations engendered by this linguistic manipulation. The images sourced from these search results were culled from commercial websites, photo banks, image aggregate services, social media, craft blogs and user-generated content sites such as Pinterest. After they were selected and extracted, the background of each photograph was digitally erased, replaced by a homogenous and homogenising backdrop of Chroma Key Blue (the shade of blue most commonly used in blue screen: the visual effects/post-production technique for compositing (layering) two images or video streams together based on colour hues. While this ‘universalizing’ impulse flattens each photograph and stresses their seriality, it also serves to obliterate and dissolve any information conveyed by these photographs original contexts, effectively untethering them from any commercial, didactic, or expressive function.

One could argue that ‘As Simple as Clay’ is therefore above all else a work of search engine art, one which playfully appropriates and ultimately embraces the frozen collage of the Google image search, delivering up static, silent screenshots of countless photographic remakes of ostensibly one and the same thing.

What’s ultimately at stake in Liu Shiyuan’s avid embrace of the algorithmic aesthetic of the search engine? In this talk, part of the Oxford Photography Seminar,  I focused on two primary vectors for consideration, exploring the inherent tension in the work between the material and the immaterial, as well as the interplay between text and image.

 

SNAPSHOT TO WECHAT: A MIGRATION OF IDENTITY

New Exhibition at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool

6 APRIL – 17 JUNE 2018

Worldwide, we take and share over three billion photos on social media each day. This exhibition looks at everyday photographs taken by people in China, considering how the casual act of snapping photos has become a crucial part of how we understand ourselves.

China has seen an unprecedented migration from rural to urban living to support a rapidly expanding economy. As part of Liverpool 2018’s China Dream season, Snapshot to WeChat: A Migration of Identity presents three projects examining the role of photography today, casting some light on life in a rapidly transforming global culture.

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Anthropologist Dr Xinyuan Wang is the author of Social Media in Industrial China. She investigates photos posted on China’s immensely popular WeChat social media platform, revealing how this new networked generation are using photographs online to facilitate and develop their identity.

Thomas Sauvin, who lived in China for more than a decade, discovered an accumulation of 35-mm photograph negatives in a Beijing recycling plant. He began buying the negatives by the kilogram, sorting through hundreds of thousand of images taken by ordinary citizens to establish a celebrated archive called Beijing Silver Mine. Images selected span a time between 1985 and the early 2000’s offering an opportunity to look at everyday life, leisure and travel in China in an age before everybody carried smartphones at all times.

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Teresa Eng is a Chinese-Canadian photographer who produced her project Self/Portrait in shopping precincts in China, asking young visitors to share a selfie from their phones and presenting it alongside a portrait she made of them. We present the original Self/Portrait alongside a newly commissioned partner series made here in Liverpool.

Part of China Dream, a branch of Liverpool 2018. Special thanks to Thomas Sauvin, Teresa Eng and Xinyuan Wang.