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.

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.

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