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.

August 6th, 2018

Keywords in Chinese Internet Subcultures

 

By: Mei Jia     Source: China Daily       Date: 18/7/2018

 

Cover of The Book of Wallbreaking: Keywords in Chinese InternetSubcultures. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A new book tries to make sense of what the younger generation is saying, Mei Jia reports.

Peking University associate professor Shao Yanjun, 50, is not the first one to discover that the younger generation, growing up with smart devices and the internet, actually use a different language when they are online, and sometimes, offline too, which is not easy to understand for her and her peers.

Therefore she has become the first to direct and guide her doctoral and master’s students to write a book about keywords in Chinese internet subcultures.

A pioneer and established scholar on internet culture/literature studies, Shao began to give lectures on the campus about web novels and online literature in 2011. However, outside class, she felt at loss.

“Their language differed from what they used in class, and I noticed jargon,” she says.

“And sometimes the phrases seemed to be standard Chinese that you’re familiar with, but referred to different things,” she adds.

Shao tried to follow up by frequently checking on search engines before she reluctantly used the language herself when chatting with her students, while being “lectured” by the young people.

Continue reading

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.

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

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My article on Miao Ying, Internet Art and ‘Chinternet Aesthetics’ entitled ‘Meanwhile in China…Miao Ying and the Rise of Chinternet Ugly‘  is now available in the latest issue of ARTMargins (Vol. 7, no.1). I’ve included the abstract below but to download the full article follow this link. The article is also accompanied by a special online supplement which can be found at ARTMargins online. The aim of the supplement is to enable viewers to see these works as the artist intended, as well as providing links to many of the websites introduced in my article.

 

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GENDER IN CHINESE CONTEMPORARY ART

 

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GENDER IN CHINESE CONTEMPORARY ART

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Ma Qiusha, From No.4 Pingyuanli to No.4 Tianqiaobeili, 2007, single channel video, 7’53”, image courtesy of the artist

 

On the 22nd February I’ll be speaking at a symposium organised by Tate Modern on gender in contemporary art, looking specifically at how artists are exploring gender through digital and mediated spaces. The programme for the symposium is listed below. It offers a fantastic opportunity to hear artists including Ma Qiusha, Nabuqi and Ye Funa talk about their practice. Tickets for the event are now available via the Tate Website. 

TATE MODERN

22nd February. 14:00-18:30

This international symposium will explore the role that gender has played in the development of Chinese contemporary art.

Co-organised by Tate Research Centre: Asia and Central Academy of Fine Arts China, the symposium is split into two sessions. The first will give a critical overview of the subject, including a paper by Monica Merlin that will provide a history of contemporary art by women in China, a paper by Ros Holmes that will take up the new condition of artistic creation and distribution through digital and mediated spaces, and a panel discussion moderated by Wenny Teo. The second session will focus on individual practices, with artist presentations from Nabuqi, Ma Qiusha and Ye Funa followed by a discussion moderated by Song Xiaoxia.

By engaging the history of women’s artistic production in China, this symposium seeks to recuperate an often-elided narrative, while also asking what it means to be a woman artist working in China today, and whether gender still matters in contemporary practice.

Gender in Chinese Contemporary Art is part of the multi-venue collaborative exhibition NOW: A Dialogue on Female Chinese Contemporary Artists, which examines the positions adopted by women artists within the ecology of contemporary China. Through a series of exhibitions, commissions and events, NOW explores diverse artistic practices which transcend notions of gender difference to offer multi-faceted perspectives on contemporary social realities.

Programme

14.00 Welcome by Tate and Central Academy of Fine Arts China

Session 1: Critical Framework

14.20 Introduction by Sook-Kyung Lee, Tate Research Centre: Asia

14.30 Rethinking Women Artists and Gender in Contemporary Chinese Art
Monica Merlin, Birmingham City University

15.00 No More Nice Girls: Celebrating the Ugly and the Artless in China’s Online Spaces
Ros Holmes, Christ Church, Oxford University

15.30 Discussion and Q&A moderated by Wenny Teo, The Courtauld Institute of Art

16.00 Break

Session 2: Voices of NOW

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

16.45 Nabuqi

17.00 Ma Qiusha

17.15 Ye Funa

17.30 Discussion and Q&A moderated by Song Xiaoxia, Central Academy of Fine Arts China

18.30 – 19.30 Reception

Gender in Chinese Contemporary Art is co-organised by Tate Research Centre: Asia and China Central Academy of Fine Arts. Supported by the China National Arts Fund and British Council, Beijing.

Tate Research Centre: Asia has been generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Book now

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.

July 19th, 2017

“Let’s Go, Mantis Shrimp”: The Most Trending Chinese Internet Slang of 2017 – Summer Edition

By: Charles Liu     Source: That’s Beijing        Date: 19/7/2017

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A diet of video games and old movies have influenced the most popular online trends, as seen by a list of the hottest Chinese internet slang from the first half of this year expected to bewilder anyone not up-to-date on some very obscure references.
As compiled by Headline News, the online slang terms originate from such varied sources as online video game banter, a Yu-Gi-Oh card game and even a 25-year-old Stephen Chow movie – subtle signs that Chinese youth are a little behind the times when it comes to pop culture.
Want to talk like a Chinese teenager? Here’s the list:

1. Fisty (“拳拳 quánquán”)

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This phrase is used to describe “cuteness” through violence and requires a short explanation of basic Mandarin. Continue reading

Lin Ke’s interactive ‘Art Book’: where printed matter meets augmented reality

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In 2016 Lin Ke 林科 released a book via Tria publishing that presents a chronological overview of his output from 2010-2016.  As an artist Lin is known for innovative works which explore the impact of digital technology and computer operating systems on contemporary art and visual culture. Integrating images culled from social media platforms with playful subversions of standard software packages and graphical user interfaces, his practice employs screen recording software and programming code to blur the boundaries between real and virtual spaces.

After graduating from the China Academy of Art’s New Media Department (now the School of Intermedia Art) in 2008, Lin began a series of video works which were created without the use of a video camera. Capturing the mundane real-time actions governing artistic creation in the computer age, many feature the artist interacting with his laptop. We view these videos via the computer’s own camera, controlled from a distance with the use of a touchpad as the artist records his own movements to music.

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The resulting mirrored images, with their spectral layering of open windows, screen savers and desktop detritus present us with unsettling self-portraits of the digital age. As we increasingly experience life mediated by digital devices, they reinforce not only the reality of spending eight hours a day staring blankly at our computer screens but also the incursion of these virtual environments beyond the computer frame, personifying the uncanny possibility of a machine that can return our gaze.  Continue reading