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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Emilie Le Febvre, University of Oxford (email@example.com)
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”.