Time seems to move faster in Beijing. Walking around the city today, one can scarcely remember what it looked like without Mobikes
, not to mention mobile computers in every resident’s hands. Constant connectivity fundamentally shapes how we exchange information, how we relate to the world around us, even how we pay for toilet paper at our local xiaomaibu
. Not coincidentally, some of the most interesting art
being made in China today is concerned with how the internet affects contemporary life, how the virtual suffuses the real. Here are a few Chinese internet artists that you can check out in their native home: online.
Miao Ying, born in 1985 in Shanghai, is leading the first wave of Chinese artists working specifically with the internet as a medium. As 'the internet' is both a virtual space and a vaporous stream of 1’s and 0’s, 'internet art' is a rather nebulous term that encompasses work appropriating virtual media (YouTube videos, WeChat stickers), art made specifically on or for the internet, and work in more traditional, offline media that explicitly references internet culture. Miao Ying’s work straddles the line between these, configuring a half-real, half-imagined 'Chinternet
' both in virtual and real space. In the words of Beijing-based artist Ophelia S. Chan
, Miao’s art fuses 'lo-fi visual elements and a self-deprecating and witty commentary on contemporary digital culture' to 'embody the essence of "Chinternet" aesthetics
'. Miao Ying’s recent piece Chinternet Plus
, the highlight of UCCA
’s current group show The New Normal
, is an installation consisting of found-video collages and terse wall texts referencing the Great Firewall and the Chinese internet's 'counterfeit ideology', viewable through jagged holes carved in a gallery partition.
Lu Yang is another Shanghai artist working in the digital realm that has started to garner international attention. In Delusional Mandala, one of her several widely circulated video pieces, Lu forces art-historical tropes like the self-portrait through the digital ringer, making an on-camera 3D facial scan of herself and parading it through a bizarre, arcane world of virtual ritual. She uses the phrase 'digital nonsexual human simulator' to describe both the medium of the work and its subject, a de-gendered, 3D-rendered avatar of the artist.
Another one of her widely shown video works is Uterus Man
, an 11-minute short that likewise grew out of an interest in the possibility of escaping gender and other bodily identifiers by 'living on the Internet
'. One of Lu Yang’s works was featured in the 2015 Venice Biennale, and her star has further risen with recent solo shows in Yokohama, Berlin, Shanghai and Seattle. She’s currently working on a solo show that will open in October at M Woods
— keep an eye on Time Out
for more information on that later in the year.
Both Miao Ying and Lu Yang graduated from the New Media Department of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. That department subsequently changed its name to the School of Intermedia Art, and has been pushing boundaries in other fields, such as music and sound art. Wang Changcun, a musician and programmer originally from Dongbei, works at the Academy part time, teaching sound basics and electronic music courses at the School of Intermedia Art’s Open Media Lab. Wang’s work often uses the internet as both theme and medium. The reality you are trying to visit no longer exists
, an audio-visual piece that he performed live in Shanghai last year, uses the real-time act of surfing the web ('playing Baidu', in Wang’s words) as the source of both the sound and visuals. An earlier audio piece by Wang uses a Java script written inside Google Chrome as a generative musical instrument. Wang has appeared in many group exhibitions and compilations of Chinese sound art, and has also made more egalitarian, public-facing works, such as 'cicadas', a drone-generating digital synthesizer the artist released in 2012 as an iPhone app. If you want to check out more from the China Academy of Art’s Open Media Lab, take a look at RMBit
, a trio of alumni who also blur lines between video, music, and internet in their work.
The reality you are trying to visit no longer exists
Lin Ke is yet another China Academy of Art graduate. Born in Wenzhou in 1984, Lin lives and works in Beijing, where his work has been featured in a number of net art exhibits put on at progressive galleries like A307, Space Station Art, Ying Space, Hunsand Space, and I: project space. Lin Ke’s work incorporates images sourced from social media, audio cues from electronic music, and a deep meditation on how our lives are virtually organised, from the laptop desktop to video-chat interactions. In 'Lightning 02', a short video he made in 2014, the artist is seen only in brief flashes of his Apple laptop’s screen as it’s triggered by the Photo Booth app. This screen is itself embedded within a wider screen — a gloomy stock photo of foreboding clouds — and a petty drama is enacted as we see Lin Ke’s small, lonely figure change positions between photo flashes.
Screenshot from 'Lightning 02'.
Last year, Lin Ke released an eponymous art book (lin_ke) through Beijing publisher Tria that presents a chronological list of his works from 2006-2010, each represented by a small icon and file name. An augmented reality app lets you explore more content related to each image, making the work overall a strange hybrid between printed matter and new media. You can pick up a copy of lin_ke at I: project space in Beijing, or through Tria’s online store.
Just as it’s proven to be a fertile incubator and substratum for artists working with new media, the Chinese internet has also evolved into a place to consume art, one accessible to the smartphone-cradling masses. Responding to this rapid change in how we relate to art, Beijing-based curator Bao Dong and artist Chen Youtou established the Culture Pavilion (文化馆; wenhuaguan) as a virtual gallery designed for WeChat. Culture Pavilion considers the app’s Moments feed a prime site for presenting contemporary art, and has commissioned video works and .gifs as well as poetry, theatre, and music made especially for this platform, emphasising that the barrier to entry that might apply in more ossified regions of the contemporary art world don’t apply here: anyone with WeChat and a creative mind can apply. Since launching in early 2016, Culture Pavilion has 'collected' works by 46 artists and collectives, such as 'hi, Mr. Ma', a jarring 2-second .gif of artist Ma Yujiang staging a mock suicide. If you happen to be in Shanghai this month, you can check out Culture Pavilion's IRL exhibition, Moments and More, which is on until May 28.