Art After Social Media in Cambodia

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Image posted to Facebook by Pen Robit.

An artist finishes a piece, snaps a selfie in front of the work, and uploads the picture to Facebook. Although there is no curator or gallery mediating the art, many of the artist's friends are quickly liking and commenting on the work. It's a typical postinternet art practice that I've seen countless times, only now I'm in Cambodia, a country where a mere 26.7% of the population claims they've used the internet. The work is a self-portrait oil painting, and the artist borrowed his friend's smartphone for the picture.

Postinternet art is an umbrella term for a range of artistic responses to the widespread adoption of the web—specifically social media and networked smartphones—in and around the contemporary art world. It explores and exploits how these technologies have affected the ways art and culture is shared and made. Online conversations and web surfing become the raw materials, Photoshop and screen grabs the tools, and YouTube and Instagram the platforms.

In his seminal blog "Post Internet," Gene McHugh described the condition of postinternet as "when the Internet is less a novelty and more a banality." The lack of any sense of banality around internet access here in Cambodia, where I've spent the past several weeks researching and interviewing contemporary artists, has forced me to question two major underlying assumptions about postinternet art: A. Everyone is online, all the time. and B. Everyone has access to the computational power of something like a MacBook Pro, which are both statistically egregious assumptions. Roughly 58% of the world is offline, and many of those online are only accessing the web through basic feature phones. 

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All Internet is Local: Digital Folklore in China

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Gabriele de Seta is a PhD student at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, currently researching digital folklore and media practices in mainland China. I met de Seta a few times in Hong Kong to discuss his research after following his research archives and reports on Tumblr and NewHive. While much has been written about the Chinese internet in terms of governance, censorship and contention, de Seta focuses instead on the complexity and nuance of the forms of vernacular creativity which characterize Chinese internet culture. This interview was conducted over email.

Ben Valentine: In your most recent NewHive post, you explore Chinese Internet culture (网络文化 or wangluo wenhua) through the visual vocabulary produced by image search results from Baidu, China's largest search engine. Could you share some indicative images and briefly describe their value for Chinese net culture?

Gabriele de Seta: I put together that short essay precisely to question certain assumptions that are almost automatic when talking about China and the internet. My hypothesis was that "internet culture" as a concept is itself part of a very specific Euro-American discourse around digital media—when I talk about internet culture, you know perfectly well that I am referring to multiple platform-specific repertoires of genres of interaction and user-generated content: you know I am talking about internet memes and YouTube celebrities, rickrolling and LOLcats, animated .GIFs and greentext stories. The idea of an internet culture, so to say, is itself part of our own internet culture—an idea rooted in the early communities of garage geeks and programmers, the aesthetics of the home computing era and the hacker ethics of the '90s. But is this the case everywhere?

Opening ceremony of "The first exhibition of Hubei network culture," photo retrieved via Baidu Image search from the Yantai Internet Culture Festival website

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