[-empyre-] New Media and the Cat and Mouse Game

Melinda Rackham melinda at subtle.net
Mon Nov 15 23:44:18 EST 2010

Hi Rebecca
  thank you both for your thoughtful post, and your bold curatorial  

As many subscribers may notice we have relaxed the formatting and  
attachment guidelines  just for this month to accommodate images and  
chinese characters which would otherwise get stripped from the email  
by our software filters. Surveillance and censorship are built into  
most daily and every computer interaction, but they remain  invisible  
and we forget about them until we run up against these restrictions or  
they change.

Rebecca touched upon several of the issues I was hoping would arise in  
this discussion - circumventing, or as Rebecca says playing, the  
censorship game; portraying gender and sexuality in media arts;  and  
alternative distribution networks.  I will post separately about  
censorship issues, and hopefully some of our other guests will chime  
in on distribution networks. Perhaps Isaac Leung has some impressions  
on representations of gender and sexuality as he sits on both the  
Boards of Videotage Media Arts Organization and  the Hong Kong Sex  
Education Association.

Im impressed by your use of the hand passed video camera or .pdf as a  
means of distribution amongst the trusted, and interested in the  
display of security by the bureau, but without really drastic action  
such as completely closing OV down as happened during the Expo.  Im  
seeing technology being creatively utilized in very different cultural  
contexts - from the OV Gallery in Shanghai to loose associations like  
the Free Art and Technology Lab,  http://fffff.at -  to route around  
roadblocks of censorship, patent law and copyright and support open  
values and information distribution.

One project that really resonated with your distribution method is  
that of FATLabs Aram Bartholl's 'Dead Drops’ -  http://deaddrops.com/  
-  an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public  
space. USB flash drives are embedded into walls, buildings and curbs  
accessable to anybody in public space. Everyone is invited to drop or  
find files on a dead drop. By plugging your laptop to a wall, house or  
pole you could anonymously share images and data and maybe viruses.

Serendipitously Videotage + MIACA are presenting Bartholls' SPEED SHOW  
concept ( http://fffff.at/speed-show ) in Hong Kong titled "Peep Show"  
on 18 November 2010 (Thur) form  7pm-10pm at the  Fresh Cyber Café.  http://videotage.org.hk/projects/20101118_PEEP.ht 
m Titled  "Peep Show"  they are taking over a cybercafe for a few  
hours and installing net art on every computer, in what used to be  
called a "quick and dirty'' event. There is a certain thrill about the  
speed show manifest - like an underground rave, a flash mob, all the  
hipper for its ephemerality, and more desirable for its scarcity and  
exclusivity - but then how does one reach beyond the trusted or the  
or does the momentum build to a point where the formerly exclusive  
knowledge or perspective becomes mainstream?

best wishes


Melinda Rackham
melinda at subtle.net

On 15/11/2010, at 6:24 PM, rebecca catching wrote:

> Hi All! Very sorry for my tardiness in joining this thread. I have  
> been dealing with something of a mini-crisis at our gallery due to a  
> recent show which deals with gender issues called Shifting  
> Definitions.
> Basically we’ve been under intense surveillance from the cultural  
> bureau because one of our artists was blacklisted by the national  
> security bureau. On Wednesday, I had 10 different officials from  
> various bureaus milling around the gallery and asking to see my  
> passport. They made us take down the artworks of Shanghai based  
> performance artist Wu Meng, whose “Gravity” 2010 photographic  
> series addressed such issues as the Deng Yujiao case (a masseuse who  
> stabbed an official who tried to rape her), child trafficking in  
> Hebei and the issue of the “hei hukou” or undocumented people –  
> who cannot obtain residence permits because they are considered  
> illegal “second children.”
> There was also the video work “Lady’s” 2000 by Beijing-based  
> artist Cui Xiuwen. I am sure that some of you are familiar with her  
> work which showed at the 2002 Guangzhou Triennale. In this piece,  
> she takes a hidden camera into a seedy Beijing night club and  
> videotapes the women primping and preening, counting their money and  
> adjusting their clothes (and breasts) in front of the mirror. These  
> “san-pei xiaojie,” are basically hostesses which accompany clients,  
> to sing, dance and drink (sexual services are often but not always  
> offered).
> This issue of censorship made me think about the possibilities for  
> new media art to transcend state surveillance networks. The cultural  
> bureau took away a copy of Cui’s video, but of course I still have a  
> copy in my computer which I can show to trusted individuals.
> Wu Meng also came up with a clever solution to this issue. Wu Meng’s  
> “Gravity” series was based on two earlier performances. The first  
> one happened in a lane off of Weihai Lu in Shanghai as part of the  
> Kiosk/Xiaomaibu project. Wu Meng wrote poems pertaining to the above  
> mentioned social issues and others (including the recent problems at  
> Foxconn and illegal land seizures) and printed them on clothes.
> (Note: these are sensitive issues, but issues that have all been  
> covered in the Chinese media and Wu Meng dealt with them in a very  
> oblique way.)
> She hung the clothes on a bamboo pole as part of site-specific  
> physical theater performance in the lane. While lane residents will  
> quite happily gossip about their neighbors, they are less keen to  
> talk about thorny issues of social justice, but Wu Meng attempted to  
> engage them in her light-hearted performance. After this show, she  
> was scheduled to perform again at the German Pavilion at the  
> Shanghai Expo. Despite demands from the national security bureau to  
> cancel the performance, she performed anyway in a cloud of security  
> guards and plainclothes police.
> Even though this performance is intrinsically linked to  
> “Gravity” (she used the same set of clothes for the photographs),  
> we decided not to show the video of her lane performance for fear of  
> having the whole show closed. But on the opening night, Wu Meng  
> showed up with three small 15 X10cm video players which she passed  
> around to friends. In this way we could share the video to those we  
> trusted.
> Ever since we were shut down for a month in May for showing Zhang  
> Dali’s Second History series, we’ve become very good at playing  
> “hide and seek”. During our last show, “Learning from the  
> Literati,” we were told we couldn’t show foreign artists (the  
> cultural bureau is surprisingly xenophobic!) and thus we compromised  
> by showing the works of two artists Sayaka Abe and Girolamo Mari in  
> the “non-public” space of the gallery. We built a three-channel  
> video installation for Mari in our kitchen cupboard which turned out  
> surprisingly well as his voice beckoned viewers to pop their heads  
> around the corner and see what was in the kitchen. (Note: the  
> cultural bureau had no knowledge of the content of the foreign  
> artist’s works. They banned them based on the fact that they were  
> foreign.)
> Obviously anything that is an installation becomes harder to do when  
> censorship is involved, but with the use of vpns (+youtube) and  
> various file transfer software (such as yousendit), such “sensitive  
> works” can be easily shared. If a painting is seized, then it is  
> sometimes a number of weeks before it is returned to the gallery,  
> but with digital media we have many more options.
> PDF catalogues are also a good solution. Often we don’t want the  
> catalogues floating around where they could get into the hands of  
> the plainclothes art spies, but PDF versions help circumvent that  
> problem.
> Sadly, while digital technology makes censorship and seizures of  
> work less painful (no physical or monetary loss  due to the  
> confiscation of the actual object), it means that the art  
> institution needs to make a decision as to who to trust – a somewhat  
> stressful and paranoia inducing position.
> If anyone has any similar experiences or useful strategies, I'd love  
> to hear them and I hope to have the chance to meet you all when  
> you're in Shanghai.
> Best
> Rebecca
> -- 
> Rebecca Catching
> Director OV Gallery
> Shaoxing Lu 19C, by Shanxi Nan Lu
> Shanghai, China, 200020
> +86 (21) 5465-7768
> Shanghai Mobile: +86 139 1637 3474
> Skype: RebeccaCatching
> rebeccacatching at gmail.com
> rebeccacatching at ovgallery.com
> 林白丽
> 总监OV画廊
> 中国上海
> 绍兴路19丙,邮编200020
> 办公室:021 5465 7769
> 上海手机:13916373474
> rebeccacatching at gmail.com
> rebeccacatching at ovgallery.com
> www.ovgallery.com
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