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.

Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) Annual Conference, Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization

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On Saturday I attended the Royal Anthropological Institute’s (RAI) Annual Conference, which was held at the British Museum and SOAS and this year addressed the theme of ‘Art, Materiality and Representation‘. Along with Emilie Lefebvre, a post-doctoral researcher in visual anthropology, we convened a panel on ‘Agile Objects: The Art and Anthropology of Re-materialization‘. The aim of the panel was to examine 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.

Our panel critically addressed re-materialization from an interdisciplinary perspective with papers exploring

* The value ascribe to digital models of Māori taonga

* The material loss and recreation of the Great Auk within the context of the Anthropocene

* The notion of noise and materalization of womanhood in South Africa

* The material configuration of nude bodies in modern Chinese art

* The re-materialization of endangered plants from around the world

With this vast scope, we had a very lively discussion on re-materialization and the capacity of ‘agile objects’ to shape artistic and museum practices in non-Western contexts.

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Jennifer Cattermole from the University of Otago discusses the implications of re-materialising taonga pūoro (traditional Māori musical instruments)

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Artist Darlene Farris-LaBar discussing how emerging technology brings greater opportunities for artists who are seeking new ways to communicate to larger and diverse audiences.

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Di Wang from the University of Oxford discusses the materiality of the body in modern Chinese art and visual culture, 1919-1949.

 

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Arnar Árnason (University of Aberdeen) and Gro Ween (University of Oslo) presented a paper on ‘Species extinction: art, materiality and the representation of material loss in the age of the Anthropocene’

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Some of Darlene Farris Labar’s amazing 3-D printed seed pods

 

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.

April 23rd, 2018

No joke: have China’s censors gone too far with ban on humour app?

By: Lily Kuo     Source: The Guardian      Date: 22/4/2018

End of Neihan Duanzi, which united strangers around funny memes, has driven users underground where they openly question controls over society

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Neihan Duanzi, a popular Chinese joke app, had been a source of social connection in cyberspace. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

There is a not-so-secret club in China. Members find each other in traffic by honking their horn – one long honk, followed by two short ones. Others identify each other by completing nonsensical couplets: “The son of heaven covers the tiger” – to which the correct response is “chicken stew with mushrooms”.

They call themselves duanyou after the app Neihan Duanzi, or “implied jokes”, where until recently some 30 million users could watch short videos, comedy sketches and follow dirty jokes and memes. Fans also organise offline meet-ups. At one gathering in Hunan province earlier this month, a group posed in a parking lot with little red flags and a sign describing themselves as the “duanyoucoalition”.

China’s media regulator on 10 April ordered Neihan Duanzi’s parent company and one of the country’s fastest-growing internet companies, Bytedance, to shut down the app because of its “vulgar” content. It was one of several news apps to be removed from online stores or shuttered this month.

The group’s unofficial song, On Earth, a ballad about life’s struggles, has been censored. Cities from Shanghai to Changde in Hunan province have placed restrictions on honking. Authorities have advised news outlets not to report on fan gatherings. The founder and CEO of Toutiao, the news platform where Neihan Duanzi was first hosted, issued a public apology for failing to “promote positive energy and grasp correct guidance of public opinion”.

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April 16th, 2018

The Personal Data of 346,000 People, Hung on a Museum Wall

By: Sui-lee Wee and Elise Chen    Source: The New York Times     Date: 13/4/2018

Last week, the authorities in Wuhan, China, ordered Deng Yufeng’s exhibition of personal data shut down after two days and began investigating him on suspicion of amassing the information illegally.

BEIJING — Deng Yufeng wanted to create art that prods people to question their lack of data privacy. What better way, he reasoned, than to buy the personal information of more than 300,000 Chinese people off the internet and display it in a public exhibition?

The police did not appreciate the irony.

Last week, the authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan shut down Mr. Deng’s exhibition in a local museum after two days and told him that he was being investigated on suspicion of amassing the information through illegal means.

Mr. Deng’s project coincides with a growing debate about the lack of data privacy in China, where people are starting to push back against tech companies and their use of information. Online brokers regularly, and illegally, buy and sell personal information online. Chinese people are often bombarded with calls and text messages offering bank loans or home purchases that seem too personalized to be random.

Mr. Deng, a 32-year-old artist based in Beijing, said he hoped to get Chinese people to question that everyday scenario.

“When these nuisance text messages become a daily routine, we develop a habit of ignoring and avoiding these text messages in a numb state,” he said in a telephone interview. “This is actually the mental state of most people here: a state of helplessness.”

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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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February 27th, 2018

‘Find The Thing You Love And Stick With It’: Xi Jinping And The Perfect Meme

A. A. Milne’s anthropomorphic giggling teddy resurfaces in China, if only briefly.

By: Anthony Tao   Source: SUP China.  Date: 27/2/2018

 

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Chinese internet users, being internet users, had a bit of fun in 2013 on the occasion of Xi Jinping’s visit with then president Barack Obama, posting this picture to social media:

Of course it went viral, because it is almost too perfect. And of course it was censored, because of basically the same reason. As I wrote at that time, “If it doesn’t seem like a picture that compares China’s president to a chubby bear with a sweet tooth would be allowed to stand, it’s because a picture that compares China’s president to a chubby bear with a sweet tooth isn’t allowed to stand. Continue reading

February 7th, 2018

From #MeToo to #RiceBunny: how social media users are campaigning in China

By: Meg Jing Zeng      Source: The Conversation      Date: 6/2/2018

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Rice bunny says, “the only thing I want for the coming Lunar New Year is anti-sexual harassment rulings… You can take my plate away, but you cannot shut my mouth.”

So reads the opening line of a discussion page for the #MeToo campaign in China, posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

“Rice bunny” (米兔), pronounced as “mi tu”, is a nickname given to the #MeToo campaign by Chinese social media users. The #RiceBunny hashtag, accompanied by emojis of rice bowls and bunny heads, is used by Chinese women to expose sexual harassment – often in conjunction with other Chinese hashtags, such as #IAmAlso (#我也是)and #MeTooInChina (#MeToo在中国).

Using emojis to circumvent censorship

A sign used to protest sexual harassment posted on Weibo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The adoption of nicknames and emojis is not just a public relations strategy designed to increase the popularity of the campaign, it also serves as a tactical response to circumvent online censorship.

Similar practices of using homophones and images are widely used in China as a form of coded language to avoid censorship on social media.

“River crab” and “grass-mud horse” – both invented by internet users – are two cases in point. Because of their pronunciations in Chinese, the former is used to indicate censorship and the latter refers to a Chinese obscenity.

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