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.

Lin+Ke,+Electronic+music+always+makes+people+dance+image+courtesy+of+the+artist.jpg

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.

Ye+Funa,+Exhibitionist,+image+courtesy+of+the+artist

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.

Miao+Ying,+Love's+Labour's+Lost+(2019)+video+still+courtesy+of+the+artist.JPG

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!

Lu+Yang,+Electromagnetic+brainology,+courtesy+of+the+artist

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.”

December 20th, 2018

‘Men Are All Pig’s Feet’ — And Other Chinese Memes Of 2018 That Reflect Our Times

By: Frankie Huang  Source: SUP China.  Date: 19/12/2018

A year in which online users saw through the BS and women said “Enough.”

 

Memes have become a way to appreciate and participate in popular culture, a way to find solidarity, construct identity, and communicate with precision.

Memes like Distracted Boyfriend and BBQ Becky are products of their times, and when people look back on them, they’ll be seen as more than just clever tools of satire: they are snapshots of what captured the public consciousness at the moment of their inception.

Distracted Boyfriend

BBQ Becky

This is no different in China. Here are five popular memes from 2018 that offer a snapshot of this year’s collective Chinese digital consciousness.

 

1. #米兔 (mǐ tù) — Rice Bunny

MeToo Rice Bunny

The #MeToo movement was meme-ified in China out of necessity, a way to evade censors who use algorithms to filter out “sensitive words.” In April, Chinese feminist activist Qiqi gave #Metoo its Chinese form: #米兔, which literally translates to “rice bunny.”

By taking advantage of the bountiful availability of homophones — words that sound the same but look different — in the Chinese language, #MeToo could have been rendered 3,928 different ways in Chinese, with unique combinations of characters for “mi” and “tu.”

#MeToo’s “rice bunny” incarnation is particularly fitting for the movement because of the meanings embedded in the characters. Rice is sustenance, while the rabbit is a symbol linked to femininity. Put together, one possible interpretation for “rice bunny” is “a basic entity required by all female individuals to survive” — a powerful sentiment that Chinese women could rally around.

 

2. 陶渊明 (Táo Yuānmíng)

Tao Yuanming with chrysanthemums

Tao Yuanming 陶渊明 was a Chinese poet born in AD 365, well known to this day for his great love for the chrysanthemum flower, a symbol of defiance and the anti-establishment spirit.

His name was co-opted in 2018 by fans of Wang Ju 王菊, a defiant popstar-in-training who flouted mainstream beauty standards of “pale, thin, and sweet” as she battled for a spot in a new K-pop-style girls supergroup.

Wang Ju

Wang’s name, Ju 菊 (jú), means “chrysanthemum,” so naturally, her fans began calling themselves “Tao Yuanming.”

Chinese memes access wordplay and nuances that reach back thousands of years along an unbroken linguistic and cultural line. In generating memes, the Chinese often draw on older cultural assets. In the West, fans of popular culture give themselves names like “Cumberbitches” and “Potterheads,” but this sort of wordplay seems comparatively shallow when put up against a fourth-century landscape poet.

The fact that Wang Ju fans are able to select a name for themselves that also speaks of what they love most about their idol is a fine example of Chinese memes as an extension of high culture.

 

3. 转锦鲤 (zhuǎn jǐnlǐ) — Sharing the koi

Sharing the koi

The koi is an auspicious symbol of good fortune to come, for each fish has the potential to become a dragon if it leaps through the Dragon Gate. As an internet meme, it plays on the word 转 (zhuǎn), which means to “share online,” but also to “reverse,” as in “reversing bad luck to good.” Images of koi spread across the Chinese internet in a fashion similar to chain emails, promising good luck to those who share. Others share koi images in social media as a way to pray for good outcomes.

In the same fashion, images of reality show winner Yang Chaoyue 杨超越 and second-generation rich (fu’erdai) Wang Sicong 王思聪 are also shared in place of koi, a sarcastic commentary on the futility of hard work in ultra-competitive China when there are those who are born rich or imbued with sheer dumb luck. (Yang Chaoyue is a talentless crybaby who beat out far more talented contestants to become the second runner-up on the reality show Produce 101, which assembled a K-pop all-girls supergroup; Wang Sicong is the only son of Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin 王健林 and is known for his over-the-top rich-boy antics.)

Wang Sicong

Yang Chaoyue

 

4. 确认过眼神 (quèrènguò yǎnshén) — I saw it in your eyes

I saw it in your eyes

This was originally a line in a 2008 song by Singaporean pop star JJ Lin 林俊杰 (Lín Jùnjié). Ten years after the song — Tale of the Red Cliff (醉赤壁 zuì chìbì) — was released, it has been made popular again by internet users who have come up with a creative second rhyme that describes a very specific kind of person who is everything from a “chronic insomniac” to “not even human”:

“确认过眼神,你就是那个天天失眠的人” (quèrènguò yǎnshén, nǐ jiùshì nàgè tiāntiān shīmián de rén) — “I saw it in your eyes, you really are that chronic insomniac.”

“确认过眼神, 根本不是人” (quèrènguò yǎnshén, gēnběn bùshì rén) — “I saw it in your eyes, you’re not even human.”

In these uncertain times, when Chinese people frequently cite their disgust for society’s moral decay and people’s untrustworthiness, this meme is a way for people to show their wit and cynicism, but more importantly, their ability to see the truth of things — not unlike the “Condescending Wonka” meme in the West, in which the same bemused face of Gene Wilder remains forever unimpressed.

Condescending Wonka Gene Wilder

 

5. 男人都是大猪蹄子 (nánrén dōu shì dà zhū tízi) — Men are all pig’s feet

This meme emerged from The Story of Yanxi Palace, the hottest show of the year and most Googled show in the world in 2018. The Chinese word for male protagonist is 男主角 (nán zhǔjiǎo), which is a homophone for 男猪脚 (nán zhūjiǎo), meaning “male pig’s feet.” 大猪蹄子 (dà zhū tízi) is an even more vulgar way to say “pig’s feet,” emphasizing its oafish and disgusting quality.

At first, this phrase appeared in the form of “bullet screen” (弹幕 dànmù), which is a feature that allows streaming viewers to send comments that travel across the screen in real-time. These “bullets” — “men are all pig’s feet” — were hurled by viewers thoroughly disgusted at the male characters’ self-centered and duplicitous behavior.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before this went beyond commentary on the show and was applied to men at large, joining the ranks of 直男癌 (zhínán ái) — straight-man cancer — as the latest phrase used to call out male chauvinist behavior. The popularity of this meme is no accident, as the patriarchal order in China is increasingly challenged by women who will no longer put up with boorish men.

Continue reading

November 14th, 2018

China’s Grand Internet Vision Is Starting to Ring Hollow

Source: Bloomberg   Date: 8/11/2018

Ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the opening of the first World Internet Conference in 2014, it was meant to usher in a new era of digital openness and project China as a champion of global cyber-governance.

The forum’s mastermind — then-cyberspace czar Lu Wei — began aggressively courting U.S. technology giants, leading delegations of the Chinese industry’s brightest around Silicon Valley. In 2017, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google CEO Sundar Pichai headlined the event in the town of Wuzhen.

Those promises are now starting to lie fallow. China’s internet is more censored than ever, Silicon Valley’s attempts to break into the Chinese market remain stymied, and Lu languishes in prison, awaiting trial over allegations of corruption. Continue reading

January 15th, 2017

Chinese Artist: Censorship Stems From ‘Bizarre And Ridiculous Sort Of Fear’

By: Jiang Zhi         Source: SUPChina         Date: 9/1/2017

Translator’s note: The Shenzhen-Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture — a prominent international exhibition of visual art, sculpture, murals, installations, architectural proposals, urban thought experiments, and events — opened on December 15, 2017, and was struck by controversy the following day, when organizers removed a piece of artwork by the well-known young artist Jiang Zhi 蒋志. The piece reappeared two weeks later in the main exhibition hall, only to be removed again a few days afterward in advance of a tour by local Shenzhen officials.

More than 200 exhibits under the main theme “Cities, Grow in Difference” are still offered around the city, with the primary exhibition site located in Nantou Old Town, a historic “urban village” of the kind that has been systematically demolished over the last two decades. Although an introduction to Jiang’s work can still be found on the website (in both the English and Chinese versions), his physical artwork remains unavailable to viewers. Below is a statement that Jiang wrote in response to the situation. The remaining exhibitions will be on display until March 15. Eleanor Goodman

All text in brackets [] signal editor’s notes.

How has something that was “safe” become unsafe?

Continue reading

Getting round the Great Firewall of China

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.

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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.

August 9th, 2017

Michael Xufu Huang: Rising Art World Curator From Beijing

By: Alex Hawgood     Source: New York Times   Date: 9/8/2017

 

Michael Xufu Huang

Age 23

Hometown Beijing

Now Lives A recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Huang is relocating to a one-bedroom apartment in Gramercy Park in September.

Claim to Fame He is a founder of M Woods, a contemporary art museum in Beijing that focuses on internet-minded works from artists like He Xiangyu and Olafur Eliasson. With his penchant for bright suits and a flair for publicity, he could be considered something of a next-generation Jeffrey Deitch of China. “Everyone in Beijing is really hungry for culture,” he said. “We really see a lot of young people who are very engaged with us and learning about art and making it a part of their life.”

Big Break Last year, M Woods’s debut exhibition, “Andy Warhol: Contact,” received immediate international recognition. The wide-ranging retrospective of Warhol’s lesser-known film, photography and interactive installations shed new light on the pop icon’s reputation outside the United States. “A lot of people in China know him as a brand,” Mr. Huang said. “The show explains how he became who he is.” Four months after the show opened, Mr. Huang became a member of the board of trustees for the New Museum. Continue reading

June 22nd, 2017

In China, universities teach how to go viral online

By:  Albee Zhang      Source:   Taipei Times     Date: 21/6/2017

 

P13-170621-301

 

A 21-year-old student walked around her campus in China using invaluable skills she learned in class: Holding a selfie stick aloft, she livestreamed her random thoughts and blew kisses at her phone.
Jiang Mengna is majoring in “modelling and etiquette” at Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College near Shanghai, aspiring to join the growing ranks of young Chinese cashing in on internet stardom.
Hordes of Chinese millennials are speaking directly to the country’s 700 million smartphone users, streaming their lives to lucrative effect, fronting brands and launching businesses.
They are known as wanghong (網紅) — literally hot on the web — and they now represent an industry worth billions and so big it even has its own university curriculum. Continue reading

#SocialHumanities Datahack: Self-(Re)presentations on Social Media

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As one of the convenors of the TORCH network on the #SocialHumanities, I’m pleased to announce that tomorrow on the 14th January we will be holding our second major event: a Datahack on Self-(Re)presentations on Social Media. The event will be held at the Oxford Launchpad in the Saïd Business School and is being organised by Yin Yin Lu and Kathryn Eccles of the Oxford Internet Institute.

Details of the event including tomorrow’s programme are as follows:

How do people represent themselves on social media, and how are they represented by others? Which qualities and virtues are emphasized (or ignored)? How polarised are these (re)presentations?

The TORCH #SocialHumanities network will explore answers to these questions at our day-long datahack on 14 January, by examining content from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Wikipedia, Reddit, and other social media platforms. We welcome participants from all disciplines, including the humanities and both social and computational sciences.

In the morning we will have four expert-led workshops, where specific approaches to social media data analysis will be taught, followed by lunch and the datahack proper. During lunch, participants will split into interdisciplinary teams (of two to four people) and decide upon which dataset to explore and which research question to answer. Datasets and questions will be provided, but you are more than welcome to bring your own (we’re both BYOD and BYOQ)!

At the end of the day each group will present their findings; the team with the most interesting and creative analysis will be awarded a prize. Afterwards, we’ll celebrate our achievements and continue the discussion over drinks.

We welcome participants from any and all backgrounds. If you have no programming skills and/or have not analysed social media data before, don’t worry—there will be plenty of opportunities for you to contribute, and data experts will be on hand to help.

If you have any questions please email us at socialhumanities@torch.ox.ac.uk. There is limited space so we recommend that you RSVP as early as possible!

PROGRAMME

09.30-10.00: Registration

10.00-10.30: Introduction and overview of the day

10.30-12.30: Workshops led by Mike Thelwall (SentiStrength), Taha Yasseri (topic modelling), Jason Nurse (identity manifestation), Peter Fairfax (Brandwatch)

12.30-13.30: Team formation and working lunch

13.30-17.00: Data analysis (tea and coffee provided at 15.00)

17.00-18.00: Presentation of findings and group discussion

18.00-19.00: Prizes and drinks reception

November 3rd, 2016

Report: China Censorship Machine Not the Monolith It Appears to Be

By: Josh Chin      Source: The Wall Street Journal      Date: 2/11/2016

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On China’s popular streaming video app YY, you can chat about the Dalai Lama or the party drug ecstasy, but if you want to talk about people from Henan province stealing manhole covers, you’ll have to switch to a different app.

A group of internet researchers based in North America spent more than a year tracking how some of China’s better known social video apps censor their users. Their latest findings, released in a report this week after they culled through a huge trove of banned keywords, suggest China’s censorship regime is not the well-coordinated machine it’s often assumed to be.

(The full report, entitled ‘Harmonised Histories’ can be found here at Net Alert)

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