June 10, 2013 § Leave a comment
I am so glad Asia is creeping up on New Zealand. Otherwise I might never have discovered the Double Fly Arts Centre (双飞艺术中心) collective. This crazy gang of Shanghai-based artists is a rare find and certainly not the kind of art you’d expect to be sanctioned by China’s Ministry of Culture and I would bet my last dollar that it hasn’t been.
On the other hand, Double Fly (双飞) hasn’t been banned either. For a while, a number of their videos could be seen as part of the Moving on Asia exhibition at Wellington’s City Gallery. The show ended last week and if you missed it, Double Fly video short films can be found online (as are many of the other works from the Moving on Asia exhibition).
Here’s the one where they rob a bank. Watch how baffled the workers are when the Double Fly robbers rob a construction site which will be a bank – once its finished.
Here’s another one where members of the group dress up as businessmen and behave shockingly in an up-scale café. They become such a nuisance that the police are called.
In this one, the Double Fly save the world while parodying global leaders in scenes like Silvio Berlusconi’s infamous Bunga Bunga parties.
The curators say the video art in the Moving on Asia exhibition is designed to raise questions about New Zealand’s geographic and cultural relationship to Asia at a time when the country’s ties to the region are becoming stronger and more nuanced.
The exhibition of 45 works from Indonesia, China, South Korea, India, Philippines and Taiwan were drawn from Gallery LOOP in Seoul and curated for the City Gallery show. The exhibition’s three parts are New Town Ghosts, Movement No.2 and Who Cares about the Future? A big part of that future is China and the new art has to transmit the electrifying changes that are happening to Chinese society. Rapid progress has benefited millions of Chinese but there’s been an alarming cost as well, like yawning income gaps, environmental degradation, worsening corruption, and the struggle for a moral society.
Since China began opening up in the 1980s, video art started to be made as the equipment became more portable, cheaper and available. Now, it seems video art has blossomed as a medium of choice for many Chinese artists.
While the government, by and large, supports art that subscribes to its narrative of nation building and the legacy of five thousand years of civilisation, many of the new generation of Chinese artists are evidently bucking government orthodoxy while tackling taboo subjects such as censorship, human rights, social injustice and even sex.
While the rebellious artists may not get government support and funding, they cannot be stopped from creating and distributing their works, such as the video shorts in Moving on Asia which gives us a view of a thriving scene that’s off the official map. Viewing these works gives us different perspectives on China and that is helpful to those of us interested in understanding the country better if we can’t be there.
But in fact, there isn’t a clear link between Chinese government censorship policy and its impact on contemporary visual arts. As said above, the Government has been applying strict rules on creative content, i.e. TV programmes, theatrical performances, creative writing etc, however, there is not a clear censorship rule around contemporary visual art and this still remains a grey area. On the other hand, the majority of party politicians and government officials don’t fully understand arts and are not good at reading the metaphors behind the art works (and) this inhibited the censorship system working properly.
In recent years for example, cases of art works that have been withdrawn from exhibitions are mostly due to depiction of violence, explicit sexual or abusive material. These themes have been fundamentally banned in all creative industries in China. In addition, political direction is another essential issue that the Chinese government applies strict rules on, and political dissidences would find difficulties in showing their political themed art works in China.
Just ask Ai Weiwei (艾未未) whom the Chinese government categorises as a political activist and a troublemaker. His troubles with Chinese officials are well publicised and can also be seen in the documentary Never Sorry. His latest work includes a music video Dumbass, about his arrest and jailing last year, and more recently, a statement about China’s food safety scandals.
By coincidence, the Moving on Asia exhibition ended on June 3, the day before June 4 which, most Chinese bloggers will be able to tell you, is a sensitive topic on the Chinese internet. Any mention of June 4 is removed as quickly as it is posted behind the Great Firewall because the crushing of a large student-led protest on that day in 1989 is a taboo subject that China’s leaders want to keep hidden.
There’s a vigil held in Hong Kong each year (something that would not be permitted anywhere else in China) while Chinese activists, using virtual proxy networks and other tools to circumvent the ‘Chinese intranet’, post photos, links and other information about the ‘Tiananmen Incident’ on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.
The famous ‘Tank Man’ photo doesn’t last long on the Chinese internet. So sensitive is the topic of June 4 that this photo-shopped Giant Duck version was also taken down on Chinese micro-blogs. Here’s an NPR report on how a giant yellow duck art installation on Hong Kong harbour become an unlikely symbol of the Tiananmen Anniversary.
This is why discovering Double Fly has been a minor revelation. I think it’s a positive sign that such chaotic and mentalist art is being made in China. It’s a positive sign for China that Double Fly and other punk artists can get their work shown overseas; that some of it makes its way to my city art gallery; and there are curators who are interested in our Asian future and who think art is important to understanding the region.
Who cares about the future? I think these artists do and they give us some idea of what to expect in that future because the hints are there to be found in the weird and challenging world of contemporary video art coming out of China.
February 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
Harvard economics graduate and basketball star, Jeremy Lin is blazing a new chapter in Asian American achievement. While we in New Zealand are still waiting for the first Asian All Black, Lin has become an almost overnight sensation in the NBA for his electrifying performances for the New York Knicks over the past few weeks.
This Taiwanese Chinese American (Taiwanese because his parents came from Taiwan, Chinese because of his ethnicity and American because the United States is his birthplace) story is one of those against the odds stories that become part of the folklore of any sport. But for millions of Asian Americans, he has even greater value for being, like them, of an ethnic background that breaks the usual tropes of what it takes to be a successful NBA player.
Until Lin appeared to burst on the NBA stage this month, there were no Asian American professionals in the top rank of US professional basketball. Many of us know Yao Ming (now retired) but he was a Chinese national and had the massive advantage of being two metres 29 centimetres tall. That’s seven feet six inches in old money.
Jeremy Lin is a less statuesque one metre 92 centimetres or six foot three inches. To put his recent exploits in perspective, Lin had only played 55 minutes in total for his New York Knicks team’s first 23 games of the current season. He was a virtually forgotten man on the bench until he got his first start. He was even on loan to another team in a lower league when he was recalled by Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni who candidly admitted Lin “got lucky because we were playing so bad”.
But he seized his chance like a glutton at a banquet. Against the Jersey Nets on February 4, Lin scored 25 points, helping his team to 99-92 win. He scored an astonishing 38 points against the Los Angeles Lakers and he made this astonishing play against the Toronto Raptors with seconds on the clock and the scores tied.
It’s been ‘Linsanity’ ever since. After he began starting for the Knicks, Lin led the previously struggling team on a seven match winning streak. He has been unstoppable, scoring freely and been integral to bringing winning NBA excitement to the Knicks home games at Madison Square Garden.
The trick about Jeremy Lin’s stratospheric rise in basketball folklore is very much about how he is absolutely dominating games and has become the team leader. He plays with no fear (something he attributes to his faith as a Christian) and shows incredible composure for a young player who has only just made it onto the NBA stage and is now playing among the NBA elite.
That is not to say he is without a weakness. He can turn the ball over to the opposition too often as he did against the Hornets, a defeat that brought the flying Knicks back down to earth and reminded everyone that Lin is human after all.
9 TOs wont get it done...gotta learn from my mistakes and move on to the next one. See you guys sunday!—
Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) February 18, 2012
An undeniable factor in the appeal of Lin’s story has been his ethnicity as a Chinese American. He has become an iconic figure to the huge East Asian diaspora communities in the United States and Canada and he has also come to ‘represent’ Chinese in Taiwan and in the People’s Republic.
This excellent USA Today article explores the flukey quality of Lin’s emergence in a sport dominated by African Americans and what it means to local Chinese.
“We’re here for Jeremy Lin,” said Samuel Li, 21, a Chinese Canadian from Markham, Ontario, who attended the (Raptors) game. “He is the first of his kind. We’re Yao Ming fans, but he’s seven feet and from China. Jeremy is my size and from America. We can identify with him.”
The excitement translating into Lin’s growing popularity is naturally captured on social media. He has amassed almost 450,000 Twitter followers (he is @JLin7) and on China’s Sina weibo, he has nearly 900,000 followers. Lin was also reportedly the most common searched item on the Baidu search engine in China between February 2 and February 14 and he has become a feature in the Chinese language mainstream media. His number 17 jersey is the top selling shirt at NBAstore.com with Hong Kong and Taiwan being the third and fourth destinations behind the US and Canada.
There’s also been a lot of unintended comedy around the Lin story. ESPN had to apologise for its ‘Chink in the armour’ headline while Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock had to say sorry for his ‘two inches of pain’ tweet – a reference to the smaller than average penis size stereotype of Asian men!
Chinese netizens also ridiculed a Xinhua news agency article that explored the possibility of Lin, who is known by his Chinese name Lin Shuhao (林書豪), giving up his US citizenship so he could play for China at the upcoming Olympics.
This video of Lin’s heavily American accented and fairly elementary level Mandarin has been garnering views on YouTube.
Here’s another clip from the same interview, which won him plenty more admirers in China because he said he was Chinese. It’s a sensitive issue for many mainland Chinese because they resent the way people from Taiwan differentiate themselves by saying they are Taiwanese.
Meanwhile, the Jeremy Lin bandwagon rolls on. The Knicks won again after their loss to the Hornets and Lin was again instrumental.
There are so many arresting elements to this unfolding story. Lin gets his chance and grabs it. He beats the odds and becomes a winner and a star. He triumphs over racial discrimination and ethnic profiling. He is a role model for Christian fans because he plays for his faith. He embodies the hopes and pride of millions of Asian North Americans. He makes millions more fans in China and Taiwan and inadvertently gets caught up in cross strait rivalry between the two. He becomes a household name to all Americans. Finally, he leads the Knicks to the NBA championship. Well, that bit is yet to come but what an exclamation mark that would be.
It could be a Hollywood movie, except if Hollywood had made it, the leading man would not have been Asian. That’s what, in the case of Jeremy Lin, makes real life better than fiction.
April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
You’d think a showdown between India and Pakistan at the Cricket World Cup would be a good scenario for a Twitter war. So I went searching for nationalistic taunting between Twitter users from both countries and surprisingly, found nothing calculated to enrage rival cricket fans. But the searches did throw up one idiosyncratic feature. All the search columns were topped with a promoted tweet for a news organisation called Tantao News.
If you recall, Al Jazeera were probably the first news organisation to use promoted tweets to corner news coverage of the Egyptian chapter of what has come to the called the Arab Spring of discontent and protest. The Wall Street Journal reported the cost of one day of promoting a tweet is something around $US100,000. It isn’t a cheap way to advertise a news product and it helps that Al Jazeera has the deep pockets of the Emir of Qatar to count on.
But who or what are Tantao News (@TantaoNews on Twitter) and its Global News Desk service?
The website tells us that it is an American news organisation, run and administered by CNEWSCO which is a start-up new media company based in Washington DC with operations in Los Angeles and Beijing.
Its operation is focused on “the aggregation, production and distribution of China-themed news and related content”. Tantao, according to the website, is Chinese for discover or to explore.
So far so good, taken at face value, here’s a new US-based news aggregator and producer that specialises in “China themed” news at a time when there is widespread misunderstanding and ignorance of China, particularly in the West. It promises that it is responsible for “our own productions and in selecting the textual news articles and videos that appear on our site from a continuous stream of content available to CNEWSCO from our news partners”.
These news partners are the Xinhua News Agency and the Shanghai Media Group with which Tantao has syndication agreements. Xinhua is the Chinese government’s official news agency and the SMG is owned by the city of Shanghai and is one of China’s largest broadcasters.
The website also says Tantao maintains absolute editorial independence from its content partners, “meaning we make decisions about the information on our site free of any outside influence”.
“With China assuming a larger role in world affairs, access to this news is critical to understanding the dynamics behind China’s policies, decisions, and directions,” the website says.
As well as stories about China’s economy, politics, financial markets and technology, there are also world stories that include the latest news from hotspots like Libya, Syria, Ivory Coast and Afghanistan.
In the China Focus section, there are stories about radioactive iodine detected in some Chinese provinces, new parking restrictions in Beijing and the doubling of solar energy goals, among others.
But I couldn’t find any news about the so-called ‘Jasmine Revolution’ protest movement that has made many China watchers and bloggers nervously waiting for the Chinese government’s response.
Crucially, there is no content about the current crackdown on human rights and social activists. The recent arrest of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, the designer of the National Stadium in Beijing (known as the Bird’s Nest) is conspicuous by its absence. Also missing is news of the recent detention of Australian Chinese blogger Yang Hengjun.
As China watcher Charles Custer who founded the China Geeks website described it on Twitter; “Seriously, Yang Hengjun, Ran Yunfei, Teng Biao, Sec Zhang, etc. etc….this is a fucking apocalypse of arrests, why doesn’t anyone care?”
If Tantao News wants to be a credible ‘China themed’ news organisation, maybe it should care.