Virtual Voices: Approaching Social Media and Art in China

Virtual Voices:

Approaching Social Media and Art in China

June 5 – July 8, 2012

The Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver


Lu Yang

Zhang Lehua

Ge Fei and Lin Zhen

Forget Art Collective

Reman Wang



Zheng Shengtian

Diana Freundl




Ge Fei  / Ling Zhen

Beijing-based artists, Ge Fei and Lin Zhen adapt an older artwork, Sunbathing, for the exhibition by making it available to visitors via an online music sharing application. In early 2010, Ge Fei and Lin Zhen commissioned two Beijing independent bands to compose the music and lyrics to a song that would simulate the experience of sunbathing through music, just as a particular smell or song can trigger a memory.


The artists bought the copyright to the songs and produced an unlimited edition of CDs that they gave away at the exhibition so visitors could recreate the sensation at home. Following the exhibition they placed the CD in public spaces, cafes, and subway stations for passers-by to collect.


In Vancouver they continue to promote the idea that art is not present in the object in front of you but in the experience of the participant by recreating the work with new recordings uploaded directly by the musicians to an online distribution platform, SoundCloud. SoundCloud allows musicians and fans to easily share recordings via an URL and a handful of integrated Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter, among others. The public sharing of music files, and thus their artwork, applies both online social interaction and public ownership.


 Top: Gei Fei and Lin Zhen, Sunbathing, 2009, recording session with the musicians  for the commission project by Gei Fei and Lin Zhen. Courtesy of the artist.

Lower Right: Forget Art, Youth Apartment Exchange Program, 2011, logo for Web site project. Courtesy of Forget Art, Beijing.

Forget Art Collective

The Beijing collective Forget Art likewise uses social networking to publicly promote their alternative living project, Guerrilla Living Syndrome. Initiated by Ma Yongfeng, Yang Xinguang, and Wu Xiaojun, the collective established a series of programs to challenge both social and spatial constructions in China. One of the actions includes the Youth Apartment Exchange Program (YAEP), a project launched through its own social Web site and Weibo hashtag to encourage the temporary swapping of residencies.

Promoting their artwork through a social network allows it to spread outside the confines of the art community, and even China. Ma Yongfeng explained that although the project is activated online, the emphasis is on physical interaction in the “real world.” Ideally, once participants meet online they will eventually meet in person to exchange living spaces. Later they are asked to document their experience on Weibo. By incorporating an online social community and physical participation, the emphasis of YAEP is on the convergence of the on and off line worlds.

Left: Forget Art, Youth Apartment Exchange Program, 2011, logo for Web site project. Courtesy of Forget Art, Beijing.

Forget Art, Youth Apartment Exchange Program, 2011, Zhang Xiaomin’s apartment advertisement for exchange on YAEP. Courtesy of Zhang Xiaomin and Forget Art, Beijing.








Remon Wang, untitled political cartoon, appeared on Weibo March 2012

digital  illustration. Courtesy of the artist.

Remon Wang

A superficial look at Twitter or Weibo might lead to the conclusions that microblogs provide nothing more than trivial content without relevance to useful information. But what happens in the “real world,” like that of YAEP, is the essence of Remon Wang’s artwork. With 100,000 followers on his Weibo account, Wang is the example that proves memes, ideas that are transmitted and spread via the Internet, are a popular outlet for mainstream social commentary in China. In addition to their accessibility via viral transmission, the use of humour to disarm political sensitivity makes a meme easier to transmit via social media..


An undergraduate of fine arts, Remon Wang works as a freelance illustrator. While he has always been drawing his own views on national and local politics, it wasn’t until last year that he started posting his work on Weibo that he gained fame and his comics spread quickly with followers re-posting them on additional Web sites.


A likewise outspoken critic of the Chinese government, Ai Weiwei is often also posting humourous memes. One of his more famous, an image of himself naked with a stuffed llama covering his crotch provides a visual play on words. A llama (lierally: grass mud horse) covering his centre would be read as “Grass mud horse covers the centre” (草泥马挡中央) which sounds like “F*** your mother, Central Party Committee” (操你妈党中央).


Among the most provocative social media activists in China, Ai Weiwei is reported to spend up to eight hours a day on Twitter. The Beijing-based artist has 40,000 Chinese followers on his Twitter account (numbering half of the total number in mainland China), and a self-appointed team of volunteers in the US translating his tweets into English.  Remon Wang also drew several comics to rally support among netizens to help pay the tax penalty following Ai Weiwei’s arrest and detention in April 2011.




Remon Wang, untitled political cartoon, appeared on Weibo

2011, digital  illustration. Courtesy of the artist.


Remon Wang, untitled political cartoon, appeared on Weibo

2011, digital  illustration. Courtesy of the artist.

Top: Remon Wang, untitled political cartoon, appeared on Weibo

2011, digital  illustration. Courtesy of the artist.

Bottom: Remon Wang, untitled political cartoon, appeared on Weibo

2011, digital  illustration. Courtesy of the artist.

Strict regulators have closed Remon Wang’s Weibo account more than one hundred times since he joined, but it doesn’t stop him from re-inventing new ways to get his meaning across. A detailed article in the New York Times looked at clever attempts by dissident bloggers to disguise political commentary. “Beyond its comic value, this humour shows where netizens are pushing against the boundaries of the state. Nothing else gives us a clearer view of the pressure points in Chinese society.” Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, was quoted:


To illustrate Remon Wang’s repertoire of work, the Hunan-based artist selected ten of his most popular illustration posts on Weibo from the last year to exhibit, accompanied by Chinese-to-English translations and brief descriptions of the news related events.

Remon Wang, untitled political cartoon, appeared on Weibo

2011, digital  illustration. Courtesy of the artist.



Zhang Lehua

Shanghai-based artist Zhang Lehua has developed a series of memes around discussions on social media Web sites. Drawing on the tone and visual aesthetics of pubic service announcements, his satirical paintings have looked at everything from teenage sex to the education of children from mixed racial marriages in China.

A graduate from the Hangzhou new media arts department in 2008, Zhang Lehua has been actively exploring various mediums focusing on installation, performance, painting, and, in the last two years, video.

Zhang Lehua, Teenager Dissemination Series—The Rules For Taking Care of Foreign Classmates, 2011, acrylic on paper, 110 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the artist.    

Zhang Lehua, Teenager, Dissemination Series—The 3 Do’s and 3 Don’t’s For Raising Mixed-race  Children, 2011, acrylic on paper, 110 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Facebook is the focus of his latest work, a nine-minute video similar in style to a high-school science class documentary. The story unveils as a narration by an animated portal of Friedrich Engels instructing students how to create a flipbook of faces filled with their classmates. The end result a government approved and endorsed “Facebook”.



Lu Yang

Lu Yang is among one of the most prolific (and possibly controversial) young artists in China. Her investigation of bio-art and behaviour psychology challenges humanist theories and pushes limits of experimentation in new media art in China. Graduating from CAFA with her master’s degree in new media arts two years ago, Lu Yang’s projects are like an ongoing laboratory study in which the artist controls, probes, and mutates subjects to execute her theories.

The role of social media in the new work of Lu Yang is an examination of communication technology in its formative years. Web sites generating and exchanging information with other web sites allows data to grow and machines to become faster. Eventually machine learning will evolve and

lead to artificial intelligence according to research explored and executed in Lu Yang’s latest work. The installation consists of a hospital-operating table with faux-human organs connected by computer wires and cables. The semi-replacement of a spinal cord and nerves with machine wires connected to human body parts acknowledges the emergence of artificial intelligence, while probing a deeper metaphysical question that exceeds the dilemma of social media: what is the nature of our future reality?

            Lu Yang, work in progress, 2012, human spine, computer cables and wires. Courtesy of the artist.



shengtian zheng © 2014