Chinternet Ugly: Exhibition Opens 8th February at CFCCA (Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art) Manchester

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I’m proud to announce that Chinternet Ugly, a new group exhibition which navigates the messy vitality of China’s online realm, will shortly be opening at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in Manchester. The exhibition features work by Miao Ying, Ye Funa, Lu Yang, Lin Ke, Liu Xin and aaajiao and was co-curated by myself and Marianna Tsionki (Research curator at CFCCA). The exhibition will run from 8th February to 12th May – for anyone interested in learning more about how contemporary art in China intersects with the internet please do pay CFCCA a visit!

 

About this exhibition

‘Chinternet Ugly’ navigates the messy vitality of China’s online realm, a space where artists can engage, play and debate.

This exhibition features works by six leading new media artists and includes new work by Miao Ying, co-commissioned by CFCCA and University of Salford Art Collection. 

China is home to 802 million Internet users, 431 million micro-bloggers, 788 million Internet mobile phone users, and four of the top ten Internet companies in the world. This vast user base combined with a handful of ubiquitous online platforms and e-commerce giants including WeChat, Tencent and Alibaba results in cultural currents that flow at a blinding pace – spreading and evolving far more rapidly than on the ‘global’ web and creating a distinct internet culture – the ‘Chinternet’. Utilising this space as a site for cultural and political negotiation, critique and play, the artists presented in ‘Chinternet Ugly’ probe how
 the sheer volume of Internet users in China ensure that the country 
is effectively becoming its own online centre of gravity, one with the power to create its own sphere of influence over network norms.

Focusing on a younger generation of artists – the first to have grown up with mass digital technology – ‘Chinternet Ugly’ invites the viewer to explore the complex and contradictory nature of China’s hyper-regulated digital sphere from the perspective of some of its most dynamic and engaging artists. From Xu Wenkai (aaajiao) and Lin Ke’s manipulations of found digital materials and standard software programs; to the augmented reality of Lu Yang; the celebratory pop aesthetics of Ye Funa to the dark side of internet freedom in the works of Liu Xin, and the veneration of the ugly and artless evident in the works of Miao Ying.

To mark this exhibition CFCCA are delighted to announce a co-commission in partnership with the University of Salford Art Collection of a new work by Miao Ying: Love’s Labour’s Lost. This video installation explores Miao’s own relationship with China’s hyperregulated online realm, which she views as a ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, a traumatic bonding. In this work Miao uses love locks left by lovers on the bridges of Paris as metaphor for the complex and conflicted relationship between China’s internet users and Chinese internet technology, security and access.

As an artist from the first generation to grow up with China’s open policy and the internet, Miao explores in a humorous way the visual language of the Chinese internet and its users. As with the other five artists featured in ‘Chinternet Ugly’ she works online, often using GIFs, screenshots and lo-fi visual elements alongside physical installations.

Paying tribute to the messy humanity found between the cracks in a digital world of smooth transitions, polished selfies, blemish correcting software and autocorrect, ‘Chinternet Ugly’ celebrates lo-fi aesthetics and highlights the Chinternet’s potential to subvert cultural stereotypes, reject societal norms and generate a vibrant vernacular of satirical memes and online subcultures.

‘Chinternet Ugly’ has been co-curated in partnership with Dr Ros Holmes, Presidential Academic Fellow in Art History at the University of Manchester, who specialises in modern and contemporary Chinese art and online visual culture.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Tate Modern: Gender in Chinese Contemporary Art now available to watch online

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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.

 

 

‘Meanwhile in China…Miao Ying and the Rise of Chinternet Ugly’ now available in the latest issue of ARTMargins

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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.

 

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GENDER IN CHINESE CONTEMPORARY ART

 

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GENDER IN CHINESE CONTEMPORARY ART

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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. 

TATE MODERN

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.

Programme

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

16.00 Break

Session 2: Voices of NOW

16.30 Introduction by Wang Chunchen, Central Academy of Fine Arts China

16.45 Nabuqi

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.

Book now

CFP: Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization

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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

Call for papers is open now until 8th January 2018. To submit a paper, please see: https://nomadit.co.uk/rai/events/rai2018/conferencesuite.php/panels/6075

Further details can be found below

(P025) Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization

Convenors:  Ros Holmes, University of Oxford (ros.holmes@history.ox.ac.uk) and Emilie Le Febvre, University of Oxford (emilie.lefebvre@anthro.ox.ac.uk)

Short abstract

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.

Long abstract

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