Artist Profile: Miao Ying

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The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

Miao Ying, flowers all fallen, Birds far gone (2015)

Your graduation show was the first time you involved the internet in your work. You made a new dictionary composed entirely of censored terms which you spent 3 months compiling, looking up every single word in the Chinese dictionary on google.cn, and recording all those that met with a blocked result. It was a hugely laborious piece which resulted in an actual book (Blind Spot, 2007). More recently, Is it me you are looking for? (2014) also included censored content, combining Lionel Richie's 1984 Hello music video with three images from the "LAN Love Poem.gif" series (2014), in which "website unavailable" pages from censored websites are overlaid with kitschy slogans from Chinese internet poetry.

How would you describe your attitude to censored pages as source material?  The way you use it now, a blocked page is always the start of something else; the "website unavailable" notice has become a familiar backdrop used again and again. It comes across more lightheartedly, almost like the devil you know. 


    Miao Ying, Blind Spot, artist book (2007)

I guess that when I was younger, I saw censorship more like an enemy, with more limitations than possibilities. In 2007, when I made the first piece Blind Spot, blogs were trending in China. Although blogger.com was blocked, there were some great local blog servers, and for the first time as someone from the post '80s generation, I got to know a lot of public intellectuals from their blogs—that was enlightening for me. I was a senior in college, and very idealistic. I wanted to be more responsible for society. On the other hand, I was starting to love the internet because blogs, Google, and Wikipedia really changed the way I gathered information. When I was a kid, I never truly trusted the school books and the newspapers in the same way that I didn't trust my English teacher’s accent. It was totally mean and cynical because I felt everything could be censored or manipulated here. Even when the internet came out in China, it was censored to begin with, but at least if knew a way to get past it, I could get past the "second hand information." 

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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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