‘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 commissions and site-specific installations.
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.
In contrast to previous exhibitions which have emphasized the ‘machine vision’ and ‘new aesthetic’ of our current information age, probing the hypothetical futures of both science fiction and ‘Sino-Futurism’, ‘Chinternet Ugly’ presents an inversion of these trends. It focuses on a distinct anti-aesthetic that valorises amateur production, eschews technical mastery and celebrates humorous inaccuracies in reproduction, translation, and dissemination as a means of satirizing a society relentlessly concerned with image.
Paying tribute to the messy humanity found between the cracks in a digital world of smooth transitions, polished selfies, blemish correcting software and autocorrect, the artists in this exhibition celebrate lo-fi aesthetics and highlight 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, Departmental Lecture in Chinese Art at the University of Oxford, who specialises in modern and contemporary Chinese art and online visual culture.