Just as the Great Wall of China was built over 2,000 years ago to defend against foreign invasion, the Great Firewall of China was established in the early 2000s to block what the Communist government deems ‘harmful content’ from abroad. Described as the biggest digital boundary in the world, it separates the country’s vast population of over 802 million internet users from the rest of the ‘global’ web, creating a distinct online culture nicknamed the ‘Chinternet’. It’s a space of rapid evolution, complete with its own search engines (Baidu replacing Google) and social networks (Weibo replacing Twitter, Renren replacing Facebook, Youku and Tudou replacing YouTube), yet also where individual user activity is tightly monitored and controlled. Indeed, the Chinese Internet police force was reported by state media to number 2 million in 2013.
Against this backdrop, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art prepares to present Chinternet Ugly – an exhibition of work by six leading new media artists which explores the complex and contradictory nature of China’s hyper-regulated digital sphere; uncovering the cracks in its polished surface where a subversive, messy vitality prevails. The emphasis is on the lo-fi, the amateur, the glitch, the miss-translation and the flawed-reproduction in a consumer society relentlessly concerned with image. Across the series of new commissions and site-specific installations included within the show, references to augmented reality, advertising, Shanzhai (fake or pirated) aesthetics, the performance of identity, voyeurism, censorship and the dark side of internet freedom will emerge, prompting wider reflections on the nature of internet culture more generally.
While the rest of the world may not be easily able to peer behind the 21st century wall that now surrounds China’s citizens, Chinternet Ugly should offer a fascinating window into the energies of resistance that are seething behind it.
‘Chinternet Ugly’ has been co-curated in partnership with Dr Ros Holmes, Departmental Lecturer in Chinese Art at the University of Oxford, who specialises in modern and contemporary Chinese art and online visual culture. It will feature work by artists Ye Funa, Miao Ying, Lin Ke, aaajiao, Liu Xin and Lu Yang.