Corridor8 review

A review by Beth Dawson which appeared here in Corridor8

Chinternet Ugly

Installation image of Ye Funa ‘Beauty Plus Save the Real World’ (2018). Image courtesy CFCCA, photography by Michael Pollard.

In Western portrayals China’s relationship with the internet is often depicted as one of surveillance and control epitomised in the image of the ‘Great Firewall of China’, in opposition to digital creativity and freedom enjoyed by those in the West. In fact, just a day after the opening night of the group show Chinternet Ugly at CFCCA, The Wall Street Journal published an article stating that ‘the global internet is splitting in two’ where in China ‘the government is absolute, and it is watching’ and ‘on the other side…the internet is open to all.’

Chinternet Ugly doesn’t deny government-controlled aspects of China’s internet, but presents more complex engagements with it, moving past the dichotomy of Chinese constraint vs global (particularly Western) freedom. It encourages audiences to peer over ‘The Great Firewall’ and see examples of digital creativity arising from a culture of over 802 million internet users. The exhibition features pieces that not only speak to the unique digital culture in China, termed ‘Chinternet’, but also to global issues and ugliness.

One theme that speaks both to the Chinese digital landscape and global internet experiences is the glossy, pastel pink selfie wonderland of Ye Funa’s ‘Beauty Plus Save the World’ (2018). Funa’s piece invites viewers to take their own selfies in filter-inspired sets resembling the interfaces and results produced by popular appearance altering app Meitu, which has over 6 billion photos uploaded to it every month. The facades, dominated by millennial pink and populated by sheet mask motifs – a beauty staple associated with Eastern beauty regimes – are distorting, fun and enticing to interact with, reflecting the allure of these reality distorting apps. Although the focus is on Meitu, the themes present in Funa’s piece could easily apply to global variants such as Instagram and Snapchat filters, or Facetune which have sparked conversations of self-perception, representation and mediation of the self.

Turn away from the pastel section of the gallery however and you’ll find international connections of a different kind.

To produce ‘Can You Tear For Me?’ (2015), Liu Xin engaged with the often-unseen community of online freelancers through Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT), an online task marketplace, asking them to cry for $0.20 and take strikingly personal photographs of the result. Here, a global community are united in emotion, but also the human labour that produced it. There is an uneasy relationship between the intimate portraits created and the detached online labour market that they’re derived from. With AMT boasting that job posters can access a ‘global, on-demand, 24×7 workforce’, Xin’s piece encourages the audience to consider the growth in digital work and commodification of arenas including emotional labour. This is not only prevalent in the rise of platforms such as AMT, TaskRabbit and many more, but also the monetisation of private lives through influencer advertising with personal moments providing opportunity for profit in the global digital landscape.

Viewing this artwork in context of an exhibition about Chinese experiences also prompts consideration of the changes in the Chinese labour market, at a time when China’s government is shifting focus from manufacturing often associated with the country, to innovation with initiatives such as a Roadmap for China to lead globally in AI.

A further piece illustrating the unity of Chinternet culture and the wider world in a literal and thematic sense is ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ (2019) by Miao Ying. In this short film, Ying transports the act of using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to evade censorship and firewalls to the streets of Paris. After teaching herself lock-picking techniques, Ying covertly releases love-locks from bridges and films her efforts. These objects themselves stem from a love-lock tradition originating in China which has become popular throughout the world. By making them the focus of her work Ying places the crossing of cultural boundaries front and centre of her work.

Through the physical action of releasing locks, Ying opposes the restriction and stasis of the object, paralleling the freeing of information from a highly controlled and censored state in utilising a VPN. This metaphor is reiterated through the sculptural piece accompanying the film where love-locks taken from Paris are secured to a very literal representation of the Great Firewall. Ying’s piece equally captures a sense of rebellion that is nevertheless visible through covertly picking locks in areas that are also public and in a busy tourist destination. It’s a contradiction particularly salient in VPN usage: a method of accessing censored information that is not accepted by the Chinese government, yet is a popular method for accessing the wider internet realm, particularly among young people.

These points of friction and fusion between the specific Chinternet culture and global networks, control and creativity, the real world and altered representations are embedded throughout the works in Chinternet Ugly, which each provide a unique perspective on the rapidly evolving digital domain. Moreover, the exhibition does so in a way that avoids simplified dichotomies of Western creative freedom and Chinese adherence to restriction with pieces that are rebellious, thoughtful and playful.

Chinternet Ugly, CFCCA, Manchester.

8 February – 12 May 2019.

Beth Dawson is a writer and marketer based in Manchester.

Chinternet Ugly: A roundup of reviews

In this post I’d like to share some of the reviews and interviews that that have been written since the opening of Chinternet Ugly, the exhibition I co-curated with Marianna Tsionki at CFCCA in Manchester. The exhibition features the work of Miao Ying, Ye Funa, Lu Yang, aaajiao, Lin Ke and Liu Xin and runs until 12th May, 2019.

First off, an interview with myself and Marianna Tsionki by Charlotte Robson from the Fourdrinier Magazine.

Lu+Yang,+Electromagnetic+Brainology,+screenshot+courtesy+of+the+artist.jpg‘Chinternet Ugly’, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA)’s new landmark exhibition of contemporary Chinese net art, promises to decode the messy vitality of online art-making within the country’s fiercely protected e-borders. Here, writer Charlotte Robson discusses internet creativity with co-curators Dr Ros Holmes (Presidential Academic Fellow in Art History at University of Manchester) and Marianna Tsionki (Research Curator, CFCCA and University of Salford) – and asks how an exhibition dedicated to new media art will translate into a physical gallery setting. Featuring screens, interactive installations, video pieces, wallpaper, photography and more, ‘Chinternet Ugly’ opens to the public on 8 February with new and recent works by artists aaajiao, Miao Ying, Lin Ke, Liu Xin, Lu Yang and Ye Funa.

At 802 million, China is home to the largest number of internet users – or ‘netizens’ – in the world and 788 million smartphone users (Forbes, August 2018).

Charlotte Robson: We live in such an (ostensibly) ‘free’, globalised society in the West. But the situation is quite different in China, especially online. Could you explain what the ‘Chinternet’ is and what makes it unique? 

Ros Holmes: The neologism ‘Chinternet’ is a portmanteau of ‘China’ and ‘internet’, reflecting the idea of a so-called internet with Chinese ‘characteristics’. These characteristics encompass the unique cultural and linguistic features of websites like Taobao (the world’s biggest e-commerce website), but also extend to more pernicious aspects like strict online censorship, internet surveillance and the contingencies of political control.

Such issues are certainly not confined to the Chinese internet, however. I think the idea that we operate within a ‘free’ online environment has been thoroughly debunked, while the heady optimism which accompanied the advent of the internet has long been replaced with a growing sense of unease.

Marianna Tsionki: Indeed, the widespread assumption that the internet in non-authoritarian Western democratic states is a free space of information sharing and ideas has been proven to be flawed even in the United Kingdom by recent web scandals like Cambridge Analytica’s data harvesting.

But the situation in China is nonetheless distinct: various systems and technologies filter, monitor and otherwise obstruct or manipulate the online sphere to defend against potential legal, economic, social, and security related threats. Chinese internet specific enterprises, such as Baidu (akin to Google) and Alibaba (similar to Amazon), have developed as a result – benefiting from the lack of market competition. Internet usage within the country is therefore rather mediated by local tech companies, while any interactions with the global online sphere beyond ‘the Great Firewall of China’ – as it’s known – can only be achieved via a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Saying that, the Chinternet also has a rich and vibrant culture of satirical memes and online subcultures, just like anywhere else, and a plethora of subversive artistic responses have increasingly begun to dominate the space over recent years. Through ‘Chinternet Ugly’, we are interested in exploring these responses alongside the ways in which artists are operating within such conditions and potentially influencing them. The six artists included in the show all certainly address a complex range of political and cultural issues with humour, irreverence and wit.

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CR: Taking this further, then, how does the Great Firewall paradoxically manage to catalyse such creativity among its netizens? And why do you describe this creativity as manifesting in an ugly aesthetic?  (I read your article, ‘Meanwhile in China…Miao Ying and the Rise of Chinternet Ugly’, Ros.)   

 RH: Many of the works that we’ve selected for ‘Chinternet Ugly’ illustrate how the forces of censorship (like the Great Firewall) can actually stimulate a necessary kind of creativity as much as they curtail it. Infinite ingenuity is required of netizens wanting to evade state strictures as they navigate between China’s online and offline spaces, for example. By emphasising the heterogeneity of responses to censorship, which are frequently neither entirely countercultural nor unashamedly pro-system, the exhibition aims to present an inversion of the ostensibly unidirectional flow of online imagery from the West to ‘the rest’.

The title of the show relates to the phrase ‘Internet Ugly’, first coined by the academic Nick Douglas in his article ‘It’s Supposed to Look Like Shit: The Internet Ugly Aesthetic’ (2014), published in the Journal of Visual Culture. Here, we’ve looked at how it can be applied to the Chinese internet specifically.

The ‘ugliness’ relates to the artistic merit and value of mainstream user-generated content, visual manifestations of which frequently range from the banal to the kitsch to the ugly. By rejecting the homogenising tools of ‘advanced’ web design in favour of a lo-fi, 1996 Dirt Style aesthetic, and embracing the eclectic repurposing of the copy-and-paste imagery that proliferates throughout the creative recesses of the Chinternet, the artists in this exhibition emphasise a distinct anti-aesthetic. One that valorises amateur production, eschews technical mastery and celebrates humorous inaccuracies in reproduction, translation and dissemination as a means of satirising a society relentlessly concerned with image and ideal citizenship.

MT:  Censorship has always been one of the primary means of controlling societies and still continues in many forms and at different levels across the globe. Artistic production has historically addressed these issues, usually with artistic movements forming either a type of resistance or just reflecting on everyday life interactions.

One of our primary curatorial concerns was to present the various voices and aesthetics that are currently creating a space for discussion around the Chinese internet’s special characteristics. Some of the artists we’ve worked with for the exhibition highlight issues of censorship, while others are preoccupied with the effects of technology and the internet on contemporary subjectivity. As such, the notion of ugliness is rather a reflection of this interaction: a grotesque visual manifestation of current societal digital trends in a Chinese context.

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CR: Miao Ying’s net art project, Chinternet Plus (2016), appears to have been especially influential in terms of how you both approached the show. What is it about her work, in particular, which most encapsulates the ‘Chinternet Ugly’ phenomenon?

RH: Throughout her practice, Miao offers an unapologetic reappraisal of the counterfeit and the contrived as a means of probing deeper socio-political and economic concerns, including: the consequences of neoliberal outsourcing, the psychological effects of censorship, and the politics of representation, class and nation. As such, she manages to counter much of the stigma and the many preconceptions surrounding China’s online realm by reassessing the value of the vernacular creativity emerging from the world’s largest online community.

MT: That being said, Chinternet Plus is actually quite an old work. For this exhibition, we have teamed up with the University of Salford Art Collection to co-commission two new works by Miao: Love’s Labour’s Lost (2019) and Love’s Little Wall (2019). Love’s Labour’s Lost takes its name from William Shakespeare’s early comedy and the film documents the artist’s recent experience in Paris, the ‘City of Love’, where she secretively unlatched love-locks as an allegory of employing a VPN server to ‘unlock’ the ‘free’ internet. Miao then attached these ‘love-locks’ to an idyllic image of the Great Wall of China (the country’s national symbol) positioned at the back of her sculpture Love’s Little Wall – the Great Wall serving as a metaphor for the Great Firewall to highlight issues of censorship and surveillance.

The Stockholm syndrome that the artist has (in her own words) developed in relation to her country forms the core of her recent work.[i] As a member of the first generation of citizens growing up with the internet in China, she reflects on the technological trends of our time with humour.

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CR: How will visitors encounter contemporary internet art (art intended for and dependent on the digital domain) within the gallery space? Tell us a little bit about ‘Chinternet Ugly’s’ new commissions and site-specific installations. Will paper feature at all?  

RH: ‘Chinternet Ugly’ will include a broad range of works, from interactive installations to video pieces and photography. Not only did we want to showcase the diversity of these different artists’ practices, but also to highlight how they’re using online and offline formats to engage with digital culture and explore its wider impact on aesthetics, culture and society.

It’s notable, for instance, that many of the artists have chosen to explore how the most ‘immaterial’ of forms – digital information – has paradoxically led to a proliferation of material states. Liu Xin’s work, Can you tear for me? (2015), consists of a selection of 30 photographs submitted by ‘online workers’ in response to a HIT (Human Intelligence Task) that the artist posted on the Amazon Mechanical Turk (a crowdsourcing internet marketplace) on 19 March 2015, titled ‘can you ‘tear’ for me?’. Converting the digital images into physical prints displayed on the gallery wall plays an important role in the humanising aspect of the work, which taps into the sense of community that the internet can offer. Lu Yang’s two artist films Electromagnetic Brainology (2017) and God of the Brain (2017), meanwhile, both live on the internet and reference online music videos, computer graphics and gaming culture, yet will form part of a physical immersive installation featuring the artist’s own specially designed ‘wallpaper’ that replicates the imagery from both works.

MT: What’s most interesting with net art is the utilisation of the digital realm as an operating platform, its inherent opposition to the rules and models of the art market, and its engagement with the ongoing development of different subcultures. Net artists have always argued for process over object, while the structures, tools and ideologies of coding and programming overrule those of traditional museum and gallery spaces. Of the works included in ‘Chinternet Ugly’, however, many attempt a kind of materialisation of digital art in the physical exhibition space. While one could argue that this compromises the very nature of net art, we feel that it is an interesting way to present and discuss these ideas beyond the Great Firewall in a global contemporary context.

RH: As for the site-specific commissions, we don’t want to give too much away but I would encourage everyone to visit the exhibition for themselves. There will be plenty to delight, stimulate and provoke debate!

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CR: You have exclusively selected works by artists from mainland China. Are there any stereotypes or presumptions about mainland China and its ‘Chinternet’ that you are keen to debunk through the show?

MT: We’ve only selected work by mainland Chinese artists as internet access in special administrative regions like Hong Kong, for example, follows the rules of Western countries.

RH: By re-contextualising visual elements usually upheld as emblematic signifiers of the Chinternet’s parochialism, insularity and state strictures, the artists presented in the show all refuse to reduce the history of China’s online culture to a simple story of resistance versus control or state versus society. As such, they directly challenge dichotomous and reductive ways of thinking about online culture within the country.

CR: What should we, as viewers, be looking out for as digital art continues to expand, both within China and in the global contemporary art sphere more broadly?

RH: The exhibition acknowledges the potential of the Chinternet to challenge and complicate over-determined readings of artistic production, both within China and beyond its borders. In the future, we can look forward to an ever-expanding range of works that engage with these issues of cross-cultural intelligibility and translatability, and it will be interesting to see how they eventually play out in the online public sphere of the global contemporary art world.

MT: I agree with Ros. Instead of creating dichotomies between ‘free’ and censored digital worlds, what would be interesting to see going forwards is an artistic dialogue that problematises our interaction with the internet in a global context.

‘Chinternet Ugly’ will show at CFCCA, Manchester, from 8 February to 12 May 2019

[i] In her article ‘Meanwhile in China…Miao Ying and the rise of “Chinternet Ugly”’, ARTMargins, Vol. 7, No. 1, (2018), Holmes writes: “Miao satirizes the bounded-ness of Internet searches in China, exploring the psychology of limitation in what she has referred to as her Stockholm syndrome approach to the Chinese Internet: “Censorship is like a bad lover you can’t get rid of, or a chronic case of Stockholm syndrome, in that you become dependent on the trauma. This type of love, which occurs in an isolated environment, sees the kidnapper, the person who makes the rules, become so powerful that the hostage gradually falls in love with them.” Miao’s work attests that a significant psychological price is paid for being constantly aware of the variety of ways in which your activity can be monitored and tracked. In a choice between paranoid vigilance and easy participation, few choose paranoia, a moral compromise that ensures that the state, constantly wary of any potential threats to its stability, secures many netizens’ continued complacency.”

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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