‘Chinternet Ugly’ exhibition catalogue

This catalogue accompanies the exhibition ‘Chinternet Ugly’ held at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) from 8th Feb- 12th May, 2019. Tracing the unruly topography of China’s online realm, its technicolour landscape of viral media, gyrating GIFs, satirical memes, mass infotainment, and copy and paste aesthetics, the exhibition invites viewers to take a closer look at the vibrant online culture emerging from the world’s largest online community. Celebrating the messy humanity found between the cracks in a digital world of smooth transitions, polished selfies, blemish correcting software and autocorrect, the six new media artists gathered in the exhibition expose the reality of an internet ‘with Chinese Characteristics’; one built on the bedrock of censorship and surveillance which nevertheless challenges stereotypes of conformity and opposition.

My essay on Net Art with ‘Chinese characteristics’? can be found at the end of the catalogue.



Art and China after 1989: New Perspectives


This Friday I will be presenting a talk at a symposium organised by the Guggenheim Museum NY, and the NYU Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. Unfortunately I won’t be able to deliver the talk in person but Dr. Wenny Teo, of the Courtauld Institute of Art, has kindly agreed to read the paper on my behalf. The symposium is part of a larger programme of events which will coincide with a major exhibition of contemporary art from China which is slated to open next Autumn at the Guggenheim.

The symposium features an impressive lineup of emerging scholars, curators and museum professionals and tackles issues ranging from public art in the 1990s to consumer culture in Shanghai, institutional critique to contemporary Chinese art history in a global age. My talk will focus on a series of photographic works by the artist Liu Gang 刘刚 (b. 1983) entitled ‘Paper Dreams.’ I have a chapter devoted to these works in my book manuscript, but in this talk I will be focusing specifically on their portrayal of new consumer identities and increasingly globalised patterns of consumption, examining how these developments are amplifying the exchange of visual aesthetics across national and cultural boundaries.

I have included the full symposium programme below, apparently the event is currently sold out, although it may be possible to gain entrance on the day.


Continue reading

“The Art of Transculturality: New Frontiers in Postsocialist China’s Avant-garde and Urban Culture”


I’m currently in Switzerland for a 2 day conference hosted by the University of St. Gallen and organised by Prof. Daria Berg and Dr. Giorgio Strafella. I’ve included the original CFP below along with the detailed conference programme. The conference’s focus on the role of new media and the impact of the so-called ‘digital turn’ on art and literature should provide for some stimulating discussions and exchange and I look forward to sharing my findings from the conference in the coming days. For those interested in attending, general admission to the conference is free and you can register for tickets here.


This conference aims to explore innovative ways of looking at the dynamics of transculturality in postsocialist China’s avant-garde and urban culture by bringing together artists, writers, art curators and scholars. Avant-garde literature and art today exist at the margins of China’s officially ordained culture.

Transcultural trends transform China’s local culture in the age of globalisation. In twenty-first century China the new media — in particular Web 2.0 — offer an emerging public sphere that challenges the mechanisms of government censorship, allowing transcultural trends across China’s virtual frontiers. Web-based discourses traverse the borderlines between China’s officially ordained culture, the globalising world, and Chinese vernacular culture.

China’s new generation of avant-garde writers and artists push the boundaries of vernacular culture. They appropriate artistic and literary languages from the post/modern Western avant-garde movements to reflect on reform-era China’s transformation and the Maoist heritage.

The papers will investigate such forms of transculturality in avant-garde Chinese literature and art, focussing in particular on performance and conceptual art. Participants will look critically at the processes of appropriation of transcultural trends and the interpretation of avant-garde languages in contemporary China. During the workshop Chinese avant-garde artists will present and discuss their artistic production and methods. The workshop will shed new light on the transcultural trends and proactive interaction with non-Chinese communities and histories in China’s avant-garde literature and art.


Day 1 – 28 July 2016, 9:00-17:00

Opening Remarks


“Borderland, Minority Culture, and the Non-Han Other in Chinese Avant-gardists’ Fictions” – Liu Xi (The University of Hong Kong)

“Taiwan Sound Poetry” – Cosima Bruno (SOAS, University of London)

“Transcultural Encounters in Feminist Poetry from China: Zhai Yongming and the Unofficial Journal Yi” – Justyna Jaguscik (University of Zurich)

“Consuming ‘Boys Love’: Female Fantasy and the New Queer Discourse in China” – Xi Tian (Bucknell University)

“Transculturality in Hong Kong Artist Annie Wan’s Conceptual Ceramic Art” – Silvia Fok (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University)

“‘Words Divide, Pictures Unite’: Egalitarianism and Encryption in Xu Bing’s Book from the Sky(1987-1991) and Book from the Ground (2005-2014)” – Wenny Teo (The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London)

“Is That Leg Loaded? Ai Weiwei, Instagram and the Politics of Networked Images” – Ros Holmes (University of Oxford)

“Narrating and Critiquing the Avant-garde in Contemporary China: The Case of Body Art” – Daria Berg and Giorgio Strafella (University of St Gallen)

“Play into Art: Cao Fei” – Enhua Zhang (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Day 2 – 29 July 2016, 9:00 – 12:00

Keynote Speech: “Of Other Worlds to Come? The Avant-garde and the Politics of Chinese Transculturalism” – Andrea Riemenschnitter (University of Zurich)

Roundtable discussion with Katie Hill (Sotheby’s Institute), Rachel Marsden (The Temporary  / Birmingham City University), Achim Mittag (University of Tübingen) and Silvia Pozzi (University of Milano-Bicocca).

Closing Remarks 

A Beautiful Disorder: CASS Sculpture Foundation’s major exhibition of art from contemporary China, Hong Kong and Taiwan


Cui Jie 崔洁, ‘Pigeon’s House’《鸽子的房子》(2016), Stainless Steel 不锈钢, 4.5 x 2.6 x 2.45m


This weekend I travelled to the South Coast (near Chichester) for the opening of CASS Sculpture Foundation’s latest exhibition 无序之美 A Beautiful Disorder. The exhibition features the work of eighteen artists from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan including: Bi Rongrong 毕蓉蓉, Cao Dan  曹丹, Cao Fei  曹斐, Cheng Ran 程然, Cui Jie 崔洁, Jennifer Wen Ma   马文, Li Jinghu 李景湖, Lu Pingyuan 陆平原, Rania Ho   何颖宜, Song Ta 宋拓, Tu Wei-Cheng 涂维政, Wang Sishun王思顺, Wang Wei王卫, Wang Yuyang 王郁洋 Xu Zhen (Produced by MadeIn Company) 徐震(没顶公司出品), Zhang Ruyi 张如怡, Zhao Yao 赵要 and Zheng Bo 郑波 and is the largest (and arguably first) showcase of outdoor contemporary sculpture by these artists to be held in the UK.

The exhibition takes its name from a letter penned by the French missionary and Qing court painter Jean-Denis Attiret in 1743. Writing to a friend in Paris, Attiret described details of the garden and architecture of the ‘Garden of Perfection and Light’ 圆明园 in the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. Praising the garden for its unpredictability, diversity and adherence to naturalism, Attiret wrote: “[the Chinese] rather chose a beautiful disorder, and a wandering as far as possible from all the rules of art. They go entirely on this principle, that what they are to represent there, is a natural and wild view of the country; a rural retirement, and not a palace formed according to all the rules of art.”

Attiret’s ideas were to have a profound impact on English landscape aesthetics, particularly the naturalistic, free-flowing forms that have characterised English garden culture from the 18th century onwards. Ushering in what was then considered a stylistic revolution,  famous figures such as the architect Sir William Chambers, designer of Somerset House (home of the Courtauld Institute of Art) and the famous Chinese Pagoda at Kew Gardens were similarly keen to adopt the Chinese garden’s ability to provoke ‘violent or opposing sensations’ through a series of theatrical framing devices that allowed the viewer to look out onto a wider panorama.  Taking the historical relationship between Chinese and English landscape aesthetics as a point of departure, the exhibition curators Wenny Teo, Ella Liao and Claire Shea therefore conceived of the exhibition as a series of unexpected scenes and sensory experiences situated throughout the grounds of the foundation. As viewers navigate their way around the woodland typography of tree-lined pathways, sheltered groves and pastoral vistas, gradually encountering the works on display, they are invited to reflect on ‘China’s past, present and future relationship with the world at large.’ Continue reading

Summer Events and Exhibitions


For anyone that’s keen to know what contemporary art events are taking place in the coming months here’s a link to an extremely useful blog post written by Rachel Marsden. Rachel is a curator and PhD researcher specialising in Chinese contemporary art and culture and she has provided a great rundown of exhibition openings, talks and events occurring throughout the UK in June and July.

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Cheng Ran, Crossroads, Maquette, 2016.

One imminent event I’ll be attending is CASS Sculpture Foundation‘s opening of ‘A Beautiful Disorder‘ this Saturday (2nd July), the first major exhibition of newly commissioned outdoor sculpture by contemporary artists from Greater China to be shown in the UK, it promises to be a fantastic exhibition and I’ll be providing a full rundown of the artists and works on display early next week.



Ai Weiwei: A Chinese Artist Abroad

Ai Weiwei in his studio in Beijing, taken in April 2015 Photo (c) Harry Pearce/Pentagram, 2015

Ai Weiwei in his studio in Beijing, taken in April 2015 Photo (c) Harry Pearce/Pentagram, 2015

Tomorrow, Ai Weiwei’s solo exhibition at the Royal Academy will finally open to the public. The media response to the exhibition and initial reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, with The Guardian hailing it as ‘momentous and moving‘. ‘The exhibition is powerful and poignant and handsome‘ writes Will Gompertz at the BBC, while the Telegraph noted that it was ‘the first real opportunity to judge Ai Weiwei’s work as art rather than as appendage to some news story.’ Ai himself has of course been relentlessly documenting his day to day encounters and high profile press events (including Thursday’s 8 mile walk across London with Anish Kapoor in solidarity with refugees) on his instagram account and twitter feed. As to my own thoughts on the exhibition, I’ve included my piece for Apollo Magazine below along with some photographs of the opening and preview which I was able to attend on Tuesday evening. I’ll also be delivering a public lecture at the Royal Academy on the 10th October on ‘Ai Weiwei, Social Media and Online activism’, the lecture is open to the public and tickets are free so I’m looking forward to sharing my research on how Ai’s practice intersects with his online presence. Continue reading

Miao Ying, Net Art and the cultural hybridity of the ‘Chinternet’

Landscape, 2013, GIF installation, reclining chairs, touchpad devices, welcome mat, sheets, crumpled paper

Landscape, 2013, GIF installation, reclining chairs, touchpad devices, welcome mat, sheets, crumpled paper

In this post I’m going to be taking a closer look at the recent works of Miao Ying 苗颖, a young artist whose practice explores the intersections between digital imagery, net art and the co-existent yet often culturally distinct web cultures that have developed within China and beyond the so-called ‘Great Firewall’. In Miao’s work memes, viral images, videos and audio recordings often coalesce in unforeseen and imaginative ways in a process that comments upon both the limitations and the vibrancy of what has affectionately been labelled the ‘Chinternet. ’ 

Born in 1985, Miao graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the New Media Art Department 新媒体艺术系 of the China Academy of Art (CAA) 中国美术学院 in  2007 and an MFA in Electronic Integrated Arts from Alfred University’s School of Art and Design in 2009. She was among the first generation of new media students at CAA to be tutored by the artists Zhang Peili 张培力 and Geng Jianyi 耿建翌, who are widely regarded as pioneers in the field. Indeed CAA’s ‘Intermedia Art Institute’ 跨媒体艺术学院 features a number of prominent artists, curators and critics amongst its permanent teaching staff, from Yang Fudong 杨福东 to Qiu Zhijie 邱志杰, Gao Shiming 高世名 and Wu Meichun 吴美纯. The New Media Art Department encompasses a wide range of disciplines spanning computer programming to animation, photography and video, an interdisciplinarity that is reflected in Miao’s eclectic approach to her practice. Continue reading

Ai Weiwei, amnesty and digital tributes


Earlier this week it was announced that Ai Weiwei and Joan Baez have been named as co-recipients of Amnesty International’s 2015  “良心大使” ‘Ambassador of Conscience’ award, the highest honour from the international human rights organisation which is bestowed upon figures “who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through their life and work.”

In a press release issued by Amnesty, Salil Shetty, Secretary General of the organisation is quoted as saying: “The Ambassador of Conscience Award is a celebration of those unique individuals who have used their talents to inspire many others to take injustice personally. That is why both Joan Baez and Ai Weiwei make such worthy recipients; they are an inspiration to thousands more human rights activists, from across Asia to America and beyond.” Adding specifically in relation to Ai’s nomination that: “through his work Ai Weiwei reminds us that the right of every individual to express their self must be protected, not just for the sake of society, but also for art and humanity.” Continue reading

Before ‘duang’: character creation, art and ideology in the digital age

duang1eIn the last week there has been much media coverage devoted to an invented character whose viral dissemination amongst internet users earned it the dubious distinction of being labelled ‘The word that broke the Chinese internet.’ The character in question? an onomatopoeiac utterance issued by Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong born action star and movie veteran. Like many celebrities Chan maintains a lucrative side career endorsing commercial products, his prolific and many would argue indiscriminate advertising career has seen him endorse everything from electric bicycles to anti-virus software, auto-repair schools to frozen dumplings. One of his most famous commercial roles is as the herbal shampoo ambassador for Bawang 霸王, the fourth most popular shampoo manufacturer in China. Chan has served as the company’s spokesperson for over a decade, appearing prominently in its visual ads as well as featuring in numerous TV campaigns in which he invariable attributes his glossy, flowing mane to the rejuvenating effects of the herbal remedy. This commercial alliance has not been without its setbacks, in 2010 controversy arose after the company was accused of replacing the supposed traditional Chinese medicine ingredients in its darkening and hair loss-fighting products with carcinogenic chemicals after the Hong Kong based Next Magazine reported that samples of its anti hair-loss formula had 10 parts per million of 1,4-dioxane.

Jackie Chan features prominently in an ad for Bawang, China's largest herbal shampoo manufacturer.

Jackie Chan features prominently in an ad for Bawang, China’s largest herbal shampoo manufacturer.

On February 24th of this year, what many believed to be a new advert for Bawang starring Jackie Chan was released on Youku, the video, however, was a parody created from splicing together old footage from a 2004 TV advertisement. In the original ad, Chan pokes fun at the digitally enhanced images that have become a ubiquitous feature of contemporary commercials, these misleading ‘special effects’ according to Chan, “can make hair go “‘duaaang!’ Very black! Very shiny! Very soft!” whereas Chan’s tonsorial youthfulness is of course naturally credited to his continued use of Bawang. When the original advertisement was first aired over a decade ago, it attracted the attention of Chinese censorship officials who interpreted the company’s exaggerated claims as a misleading promotion of the shampoo’s effects. Continue reading