In February I participated in in a symposium on ‘Gender in Chinese Contemporary Art’ at Tate Modern. The symposium explored the role that gender has played in the development of Chinese contemporary art and alongside talks from Monica Merlin and myself, it was a fantastic opportunity to hear artists Ma Qiusha, Ye Funa and Nabuqi talk about their practice. The event is now available to watch in full online and I have included links to the videos below.
My article on Miao Ying, Internet Art and ‘Chinternet Aesthetics’ entitled ‘Meanwhile in China…Miao Ying and the Rise of Chinternet Ugly‘ is now available in the latest issue of ARTMargins (Vol. 7, no.1). I’ve included the abstract below but to download the full article follow this link. The article is also accompanied by a special online supplement which can be found at ARTMargins online. The aim of the supplement is to enable viewers to see these works as the artist intended, as well as providing links to many of the websites introduced in my article.
Ma Qiusha, From No.4 Pingyuanli to No.4 Tianqiaobeili, 2007, single channel video, 7’53”, image courtesy of the artist
On the 22nd February I’ll be speaking at a symposium organised by Tate Modern on gender in contemporary art, looking specifically at how artists are exploring gender through digital and mediated spaces. The programme for the symposium is listed below. It offers a fantastic opportunity to hear artists including Ma Qiusha, Nabuqi and Ye Funa talk about their practice. Tickets for the event are now available via the Tate Website.
22nd February. 14:00-18:30
This international symposium will explore the role that gender has played in the development of Chinese contemporary art.
Co-organised by Tate Research Centre: Asia and Central Academy of Fine Arts China, the symposium is split into two sessions. The first will give a critical overview of the subject, including a paper by Monica Merlin that will provide a history of contemporary art by women in China, a paper by Ros Holmes that will take up the new condition of artistic creation and distribution through digital and mediated spaces, and a panel discussion moderated by Wenny Teo. The second session will focus on individual practices, with artist presentations from Nabuqi, Ma Qiusha and Ye Funa followed by a discussion moderated by Song Xiaoxia.
By engaging the history of women’s artistic production in China, this symposium seeks to recuperate an often-elided narrative, while also asking what it means to be a woman artist working in China today, and whether gender still matters in contemporary practice.
Gender in Chinese Contemporary Art is part of the multi-venue collaborative exhibition NOW: A Dialogue on Female Chinese Contemporary Artists, which examines the positions adopted by women artists within the ecology of contemporary China. Through a series of exhibitions, commissions and events, NOW explores diverse artistic practices which transcend notions of gender difference to offer multi-faceted perspectives on contemporary social realities.
14.00 Welcome by Tate and Central Academy of Fine Arts China
Session 1: Critical Framework
14.20 Introduction by Sook-Kyung Lee, Tate Research Centre: Asia
14.30 Rethinking Women Artists and Gender in Contemporary Chinese Art
Monica Merlin, Birmingham City University
15.00 No More Nice Girls: Celebrating the Ugly and the Artless in China’s Online Spaces
Ros Holmes, Christ Church, Oxford University
15.30 Discussion and Q&A moderated by Wenny Teo, The Courtauld Institute of Art
Session 2: Voices of NOW
16.30 Introduction by Wang Chunchen, Central Academy of Fine Arts China
17.00 Ma Qiusha
17.15 Ye Funa
17.30 Discussion and Q&A moderated by Song Xiaoxia, Central Academy of Fine Arts China
18.30 – 19.30 Reception
Gender in Chinese Contemporary Art is co-organised by Tate Research Centre: Asia and China Central Academy of Fine Arts. Supported by the China National Arts Fund and British Council, Beijing.
Tate Research Centre: Asia has been generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
I am co-convening a panel at the Royal Anthropology Institute’s Art, Materiality and Representation conference hosted by the British Museum/SOAS, 1st-3rd June 2018 and I would like to use this blog post to warmly invite paper proposals for our panel “Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization”
(P025) Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization
Convenors: Ros Holmes, University of Oxford (email@example.com) and Emilie Le Febvre, University of Oxford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This panel examines 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.
We welcome papers that critically address re-materialization from disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, particularly from artistic practitioners.
Topics may include (but are not limited to):
The role of re-materialization as alternative document and archive
Acts of appropriation, ‘bootlegging’ and copying
Exhibition histories and collecting
Issues of authority, access and ownership
Modelling, GIS, 3-D printing
Cultural heritage returns and digital repatriation
Re-materialization as artistic practice
The role that re-materialization plays in mediating our experience of the visual
By: Eleanor Peake (with a few quotes from me) Source: Wired Date: 20/10/17
A bizarre new game has gone viral in China. Applaud president Xi Jinping for his party speech as fast as you can, and then share your results online.
The Tencent-owned app started to be rapidly shared as soon as it was released on October 18, netting 400 million players by 9PM Beijing time. Since then it has amassed more than 1.2 billion plays.
The game was released following the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing. The conference and subsequent presidential speech are the biggest events in the Chinese political calendar. Coming once every five years, the series of Party meetings will go on until October 24 and will reset or reaffirm the agenda of the party.
To play the game, you have to first watch a 30-second segment of the Xi’s marathon 3.5 hour speech. In the section of the speech featured on the game (mobile only), President Xi Jinping declares that it is the mission of the Communist Party of China to strive for the happiness and the rise of the Chinese people.
The app lets you clap for Xi by tapping the screen of your phone as many times as you can in 18 seconds. You can then invite your friends to compete with you, sharing your results online and creating further digital content.
“In many ways, Xi Jinping has been described as the model of a modern multimedia leader” says Ros Holmes, research fellow at University of Oxford, specialising in popular forms of cultural production in China. “He is frequently across a broad spectrum of digital platforms designed to conflate his multiple roles as a ‘tireless public servant’, ‘skilled international diplomat’, ‘willing workaholic’ and ‘accessible everyman,’” she says.
“This type of propaganda drive is particularly important during the Party Congress,” says Holmes, “when the CCP is extremely vigilant about harnessing the full power of social media positively for the Party”.
The popularity of the game underlines how the Chinese government relies on much more than the power of censorship and control for legitimacy. “It encourages and feeds off popular feelings and mass action, much like the cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong in 1966,” says William Callahan, professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science and an expert on Chinese politics.
Similarities can be found in the app ‘Xuexi Zhongguo,’ launched in 2015, which provides an educational insight into the teachings of Xi and the Chinese Communist party, as well as attempting to give an interactive playful side to party leaders.
The app translates directly as “Study China,” but is also a play on Xi’s surname, which could suggest the alternative reading of “Study Xi’s China”. In the past five years, the Central Publicity Department, formerly the Propaganda Department has devoted considerable resources to developing videos games which glorify the party and consolidate Xi’s position.
However, Holmes is sceptical of the Tencent app’s popularity. “I suspect that a significant proportion of those alleged ‘400 million players’ were engaging with the game in a more ironic manner than the party intended”, she says. A move which reflects the deeply satirical culture which has emerged in China’s online spaces in recent years, after various censorship campaigns by the State.
“Many of these forms of digital propaganda are clearly designed to humanise Xi and China’s top leaders, providing insights into their personal lives as well as presenting official statistics” says Holmes.
The app comes at a time when Xi has been making moves to further consolidate himself as the central authority in the CPC. The 19th Party Congress is predicted to refocus the role Xi and his central influence on the country. “What is more disturbing than the app,” says Steven Lewis, a C.V. Starr Transnational China fellow at the Rice University’s Baker Institute, “is the way traditional Chinese State media has begun to change how they reference Xi”. The media has begun to use the title ‘lingxiu’ or ‘leader‘ which in the past was used to reference Mao Zedong, from 1949 to 1976.
“Ideologically, the Party has elevated his words to new communist scripture, referencing them as Xi Jinping Thought” says Lewis, which all Party members must read and follow.
However, although Lewis says the app was likely born out of a benign marketing strategy by Tencent to meet their “public service quota”, he adds the real concern for Xi and the party is maintaining its legitimacy in the long-term. “If very bright young people do not join the Party to keep it going then it will wither” says Lewis, “the app contributes to that strategy”.
The Centre for Chinese Visual Art is hosting its 10th annual conference this week, which is themed around ‘Chinese Art Outside the Art Space’. As the organisers explain: “Focusing on art made, displayed, performed or executed outside the conventional venues of art museums and galleries, this conference not only offers a unique perspective to understand Chinese art in the contemporary context, but also, more importantly, it aims to critically reflect upon the understandings between art and art exhibition, between artistic productions and audience perceptions, and between art and our daily life. The unique programme of this confernece will focus on the questions, problematics and investigations around the theme of ‘art outside the art space’ in China.”
Date: 12-13 October 2017
Venue: Lecture Theatre, School of Art, Birmingham City University, B33BX
The Judith Neilson Scholarship in Contemporary Art
The Judith Neilson Scholarship in Contemporary Art has been established to support the study of contemporary Chinese art in its global contexts. The Scholarship provides support for full-time doctoral study to be undertaken through the Department of Art History at the University of Sydney.
We invite applications from highly motivated individuals interested in engaging deeply with issues related to contemporary Chinese art, global art cultures, and transcultural studies. Prospective students must possess demonstrable research skills, high proficiency in writing in English, and academic experience in one or more of the following fields: art history and theory, Chinese studies, visual culture, and/or curatorial studies. Proficiency in Chinese is strongly preferred. Applications that demonstrate potential for engagement with the White Rabbit Collection are encouraged.
I’ve just written a short piece for Apollo on the potential impact of a recent series of online restrictions for the country’s thriving new media scene. The piece can be found online here and I’ve included a copy of the text below.
A recent series of directives has sought to curtail the already fragile spaces for free expression in China. In June, a new cybersecurity law decreed that companies report the virtual activities of their employees. A month later came the news that Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) – a form of software that enables users to circumvent the restrictions of China’s ‘Great Firewall’ – will be outlawed by February 2018.
Currently only about one per cent of China’s estimated 731 million internet users employ a VPN, but many members of China’s creative community fear that these increased restrictions will have a profound impact on their work. Like their counterparts around the world, artists in China use social media to disseminate their work and connect with international audiences. China has a thriving net art and new media scene, supported by galleries and art centres, innovative online initiatives capitalising on the popularity of social media platforms, a major prize for net art, and a growing body of young artists graduating from the new media departments of China’s major art academies. These developments reflect China’s hyper-networked and mediatised art world and the increasingly mobile culture that has arisen alongside the country’s technological advances.
While many artists eschew overtly political themes, others have chosen to confront the complex and contradictory facets of China’s restricted web, producing provocative and challenging works which not only satirise the government’s cybersecurity initiatives, but also comment on the psychological effects of censorship. The artist Miao Ying, for example, refers to this as her ‘Stockholm syndrome’ approach to the internet in China. Other artists such as Xu Wenkai (Aaajiao) strive to make the mechanisms of the Great Firewall visible, exposing the fault lines between censorship and self-expression. One of the regime’s fiercest critics is obviously Ai Weiwei, who, earlier this year wrote a polemic about the perils of self-censorship, calling for others to reject the ‘China model’ of development, which has promoted economic ascendancy at the cost of political freedom.
Recent developments illustrate that we would do well to heed these criticisms. Cambridge University Press briefly decided to block access in China to over 300 articles from the China Quarterly, one of the world’s leading China Studies journals, at the behest of Chinese censors, before eventually reversing the decision. As China expands its global engagement, seeking to reinvent itself as a 21st-century superpower, the long arm of censorship doesn’t just affect artists and writers within the country itself, but also has serious ramifications beyond China’s borders.
On Thursday I’ll be travelling to Zurich to take part in the second EAAA conference, which is being held this year at the University of Zurich from the 24th- 27th August. A unique gathering of artists, art historians, archaeologists, researchers and students working across disciplines and time periods- from neolithic China to contemporary Korea, the conference promises to offer three days of stimulating discussions and heated debates on all things art related, and will feature keynote addresses by Yukio Lippit and Burglind Jungmann.
As the organisers note: “The main aim of the Association is to encourage and promote all academic and scholarly activities related to Asian art and archaeology in European countries. More specifically, the Association will seek to establish and maintain a platform for the fruitful exchange of ideas, create a forum for dialogue among scholars of Asian art history and archaeology, and provide a setting for the presentation and discussion of new and recent research. Its main activities will include: the organisation of regular biennial conferences, thematic conferences, workshops, symposia, study events, and lectures. The Association will also actively seek out different ways to support young scholars, promote publications and exhibitions, and disseminate information and resources – of all kinds and in all forms and media – related to Asian art and archaeology.” Continue reading →