The Sisyphean nature of Miao Ying’s art—built upon the quicksand of the Chinese cyberspace—may just be its most telling and salient aspect. This doesn’t simply refer to the rapid-fire succession of platforms and meme linguistics that engineer cycles of meaning, relevance and obsolescence online: the more fundamental and less recognized problem when articulating Miao Ying’s art, particularly in light of the “post-Internet” discourse, is that even its most vigilant proponents fail to grapple with a cyberspace mediated by non-Western languages. Translation has, ironically, never been more ineffective, not only because it couldn’t keep up, but also due to the fact that, as many of Miao Ying’s mindfully layered graphics and screen grabs illuminate, we are dealing with semiotic breakage and mutation at every interpretive turn. Speaking the language isn’t enough; one has to speak the meme to meaningfully participate, even as a spectator. Meanwhile, the memes are more culturally, politically and linguistically specific than ever. This intricate set of specificities not only creates a different kind of representation politics, but also manifests a fundamentally different awareness of it.
“Chinternet,” a term fusing “China” and “Internet,” functions as both the subject and context of Miao Ying’s work. Shaped by a dynamic interplay between the nimble algorithms of mass communication and the erratic logic of cultural policies, it defies easy conceptualization of connectedness and boundaries. The latter, particularly in the context of China, is often mapped too superficially to the Great Firewall, censorship, and other clichéd rhetorics of isolation and ideological control. The actual landscape, however, is much more porous and unpredictable, full of unexpected resonances and consequences. “Counterfeit ideology,” as Miao Ying puts it, speaks to Chinternet as both a non-site and as a world too real precisely for its infinite, echoing loops of reality and simulation. Those seeking a digestible, local manifestation of the “post-Internet” to form neat curatorial or academic packages usually end up finding no more than their preconceived spectacles.
“CHINTERNET,” A TERM FUSING “CHINA” AND “INTERNET,” FUNCTIONS AS BOTH THE SUBJECT AND CONTEXT
For instance, the intelligence of the bullet screen (simultaneous and accumulative commentaries floating across online videos) isn’t defined by the novelty of format, but rather by how it generates (with exhilarating speed) new semiotic spaces and topic-specific discourse, as sub-cultural lingos mixing Korean, Japanese and English terms are swiftly and pragmatically created, disseminated, edited and post-edited. This is also the type of spontaneous, pragmatic and highly adaptive creativity that facilitates strategies geared towards dodging algorithms of censorship on social media platforms. What is laid bare for the “world” to see isn’t always seen, with the key to crack the code regenerating almost every second. Any attempt to narrativize through de-centering “case-studies” will only prove to be even more insidious than the objectives it hopes to deconstruct.
In a way, rather than looking for shapes, forms and definitions in Miao Ying’s project about Chinternet, the more meaningful question to ask, for the artist and her audience alike, is how self-knowledge is gained and performed in relation to this transforming, leviathan beast, measuring her own distance and entanglement with it. This may just provide some hope for a real understanding of territories that have never been truly colonized, yet remain bizarrely trapped in a post-colonial critical framework, even in the “post-Internet” age.
Miao Ying (Chinese, b. 1985) is a media artist who resides on the Internet. She is represented by MadeIn Gallery, Shanghai.
Xin Wang is a New York-based curator and researcher, and Editor-at-Large of KALEIDOSCOPE Asia. She is currently building a discursive archive of Asian futurisms in contemporary art practice.
Image: Chinternet Plus: pop-up ad #NO.1, 2016, Courtesy of the artist