Two online, digital projects that bring China into view (or review) through personal re-interpretations and appropriations of Google Streetview and Baidu (China’s Google equivalent) maps. Both creatives here are documenting experiences, documenting memories, attempting to digest their surrounding, making the ephemeral permanent as they negotiate, daily, their version of China…something that I still do even though I am currently in the UK and have done through this blog.
The first is ‘China Streetviews’ by Stockport (and quite local to me) artist Phil Thompson. Today, as I came to write this blog post, I discovered that the work is no longer accessible on the Domain Gallery (website) where the project was curated. The Domain Gallery is an online gallery focused on Digital and Internet-based works curated by Manuel Fernández, so I couldn’t help but beg the question as to whether the piece has been censored. ‘China Streetviews’ started in 2012 and is an on-going project replicating Google Streetview in China by documenting routes whilst taking public transport. It is that simple…an alterior way of seeing, way of mapping, way of remembering a place and space as you experience it. However, as I previously stated, for some reason it no longer exists online…was China not happy about this first-hand insight into a Chinese urban negotiation? I think I need to find out. The piece builds on Phil’s previous practice of ‘Copyrights’ (2011-on-going), which works from the Google Art Project and the blurring of particular artworks “for reasons pertaining to copyright”. He collected screenshots of the blurred images and sent them onto oil painting reproduction companies in China where they were replicated as an original painting, sent back to the UK then shown as an artwork in its own right, its own copyright. This series also makes reference to the rampant art reproduction and fraud that happens in China that has its own art ecology like no other in the world. There are even villages (in reality they are the size of towns) dedicated to it.
The second project is ‘Bird’s Eye China’ by copywriter and artist Derek Man Lui. Originally from San Francisco, now based in Beijing, China, Derek decided to start recording his time in Beijing through comic-type illustrations based on Baidu (China’s equivalent of Google) maps. While browsing Baidu Maps, Derek discovered that, in addition to the standard and satellite views, a third option overlaid the world in cartoonish pixel-art like a video games. This gave him the idea for a webcomic that would let him share his experiences with friends and family back home set in parallel with textual (almost) soundbytes, an articulate sense of humour that gives an added social, political, economic and cultural narrative to the images. I particularly like his Ai Weiwei one shown below that throws up many questions as to the changing value and power of contemporary (Chinese) art. Initially, Derek wanted to start a blog instead of a webcomic but now claims his Instagram account acts more like a blog (which I’d actually claim about my account too). Each image he creates is based on daily personal experience, things that annoy him or make him fall in love with China again, where he says “the culture shock” never really goes away. He writes with no agenda, no statement, just personal reflection.
If I’d come across Derek’s work earlier in the year, I would have included him as part of my PhD exhibition ‘The Temporary: 01’, which I am still to talk about on here. His personal, satirical take on architectures of change urban development in Beijing would have sat perfectly against the illustrative comic works of Li Han and Hu Yan of Drawing Architecture Studio. A comprehensive interview with Derek Lui can be read here…