A Field Guide to Ideology
Miao Ying is a self-claimed dual netizen of the Chinternet (the restricted Chinese internet, a.k.a. the “Great Firewall”) and the World Wide Web. For the artist’s first offline show in Canada, two of her browser-based online projects are refashioned into multimedia viewing stations. Together, they promote Miao’s vision of Chinternet ideology, her dialectic attachment to the phenomenon of internet censorship in China, and act as an unapologetic celebration of the resilience and ingenuity of Chinese internet users.
Born in the 1980s and now based in Shanghai and New York, Miao calls her relationship with China’s hyper-regulated online sphere a form of “Stockholm Syndrome,” a condition in which hostages develop a psychological alliance with their captors—a traumatic bonding, in her words. In A Field Guide to Ideology, Miao humorously unpacks the architecture of this paradoxical condition by presenting two fictional strategies: Chinternet Plus (亲特网+, commissioned by the New Museum in 2016 as part of First Look: New Art Online) and Hardcore Digital Detox (硬核数据排毒, commissioned by M+ Museum in Hong Kong in 2018 for the M+ stories online platform). Both projects combine internet slang, stock photos, popular memes, and viral videos sourced online, and are accompanied by computer animations made by the artist.
In Chinese, the English word “paradox” translates into the two-character compound word “矛盾” (máo dùn), in which “矛” means spear and “盾” means shield, a literal confrontation between attack and protection. Miao reads the flourishing popular culture on the Chinternet as a field of “矛盾”—with official acts of censorship as “盾,” and the modes of resistance they inspire, carried out by the netizens and seen by Miao as positive self-censorship, being “矛.” Collecting and restaging interplays between the two occupies the central stage of her practice.
Commenting on a recent Chinese economic strategy, “Internet Plus”—involving the rebooting of traditional industries through cloud computing, big data, and lifestyle branding—Miao’s Chinternet Plus project is a parodic and critical take on the cultivation of a new, counterfeit ideology complete with media elements that she recognizes as “矛.” Its companion piece, Hardcore Digital Detox (HDD), is packaged as a caricature of the Western commodification of “well-being,” which Miao describes as a “raw, healthy, hipster detox aesthetic.” In HDD, Miao expands the notion of “盾” beyond the “Great Firewall” and redirects her criticism toward the phenomenon of internet filter bubbles—a state of intellectual isolation that results from the personalized results of search algorithms. Miao borrows a concept from traditional Chinese medicine, “以毒攻毒” (literally translated as counteracting one toxin with another), to juxtapose China’s online censorship with the information filtering technology deployed by the billion dollar “unicorn” businesses that are banned on the Chinternet, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Through these two projects, A Field Guide to Ideology exposes the internet as a complex space of hyperconnectivity where individual ingenuity provides a path of resistance against its pervasive corporate branding, global capitalism, political propaganda, and information censorship.
Curated by Yan Wu
The exhibition is made possible with the support of the Ontario Arts Council Culturally Diverse Curatorial Projects grant