Chinternet Ugly: Exhibition Review

‘Chinternet Ugly’ Group exhibition at Centre For Chinese Contempory Art

Written by Stef Trow

Photography by Felicity MeachEm

Where to start…hmmm….. the unusual and witty title: Chinternet Ugly!
A tongue in cheek, play on words from the phase Coyote Ugly I assume. The slang phase used to describe waking up at the side of someone who, when drunk, seemed appealing, but in sobriety, maybe not so, and you’d rather chew your arm off than stay. So now in my mind I have China (now personified) in bed with the Internet after a heavy night out. Awkward!!! How is this love/hate dynamic and turbulent relationship going to end? Let’s see!

Right, onto the serious bit, well maybe not too serious… the exhibition.
As you enter the space your senses are bombarded with sound, colour and visuals. It’s all immersive. The room is lit with neon tube up-lighting, filling the whole gallery with a neon, green glow. The walls are covered from top to bottom with a scene of space, with a superimposed image of what appears to be a computer game character. Bold, outlined, manga-style writing spells out “Electromagnetic”, which is also written in Chinese, this hovers above a screen which is blaring out some of the most bizarre, hypnotic, saturated imagery I’ve ever seen in my life. As I type, I can still hear the barking unknown language of the Hindu god-like creature who is parading around the screen, brains coming out of its mouth, in what seems like some sort of ritual dance. It’s disturbing but also spell-binding.

God of the Brain

Once your eyes have become exhausted from ‘Electromagnetic Brainology’ you notice ‘God of the Brain’ by the same artist, Lu Yang. This is a video piece that comes with headsets, giving you a light relief from the “Electromagnetic” god chant behind you. However it’s now replaced with a trance like music. The film is in black and white, a tribal figure, perhaps a god, sways back and forth to the beat. Eventually the whole film turns to colour and our character is now joined by two digital animated versions of him either side. I notice they are holding a silver key in one hand and a brain in the other, like you do! It reminds me of the hypnotic Koodiyattam dance performed in Kerala, India; captivating and yet slightly disturbing, seemingly going on for what feels like days.

There are two pieces by artist Miao Ying worth mentioning. The first piece you come across is a video installation ‘Loves Labour Lost’. The title nodding to William Shakespeare’s comedy ‘Love Labours Lost’, which comprises of an Internet video of a faceless person, unpicking love locks that have been fastened to a bridge. These types of locks you’ve probably seen in most European countries, a symbol of everlasting love that no one can break. And here someone is unpicking his or her love…

Loves Little Wall

Then there is a sculpture, ‘Loves Little Wall’ also made by Miao Ying. It is a large wooden heart, hollow, with a picture of the great wall of china inside, covered with what seem like criss-cross wooden bars. On these bars are love locks, the ones presumably from the video. There’s also red petals strewn inside and out of the sculpture – there’s definitely some amour vibes going off here.

With “Electromagnetic” still pulsing in the background, my senses have been completed bombarded and I need a breather.

I move into the back room of CFCCA, where I’m greeted with a bit of light relief. ‘Beauty Plus Save the Real World’ installation by Ye Funa. A candyfloss pink backdrop fills half the of the gallery, lit by neon lighting, but this time it’s pink!!! In the middle of the piece, you are drawn to a large phone shaped screen, displaying what appears to be an interactive app. When you walk closer to the screen, your face suddenly appears on it, superimposed onto a body wearing a pink leopard print leotard. Above the screen neon writing spells out “Exhibitionist”. It’s kitsch, sickly sweet and fun! I like the interactive element, people are waiting to take their turn to use it, and take the obligatory Insta worthy photo of themselves. A Perspex sculpture also forms part of the installation, entangled in tube flex lighting. It looks like it’s been modelled on a beauty mask I used last week, simple cut out eyes, nose and mouth. The words BEAUTY run across it. I now notice this same image is underneath my feet in the form of a pink rug facemask…whatever next in this exhibition? It would not surprise me! The whole thing makes me smile.

‘Can You Tear For Me?’ by Liu Xin, consists of 30 photographs of various peoples faces curiously montaged together on the wall. They all seem to be low-res selfies (probably taken with a phone or webcam), all the expressions are sombre, some are possibly crying or have been crying. I wonder whom these people are and why are they all crying? I have to read the statement with the piece (which I try not to do when first looking around an exhibition). I have been enlightened that these people had been paid 0.25 dollars by the artist to cry tears and upload the images to her, after she put an advert out for people to do this via Amazon Mechanical Turk (a market place where businesses can outsource work to a people who can complete tasks virtually in exchange for payment).

‘When is the last time you cried? (Tear bottle for online exchange)’ consists of a square Perspex display cabinet. Inside are four tear shaped glass vials, with clear liquid in them, which I assume are tear drops. Maybe tear droplets from the gallery of people? No, they are tears from the artist…but not just any tears, fake tears that have been artificially made to mirror the exact biological fluid of the artist. I’m left wondering why the artist has gone to these lengths? Fake tears? It suggests a removal of “realness”, “emotion” and “empathy” to me. Is this what the digital age and Internet has done to us?

Moving onto Lin Ke ‘I’m here’, a TV screen showing the backs of three people staring at a blank white screen, a paradox to what we’re all doing now. There is a seat in front of this piece and you are invited to sit and listen to the headsets. A cursor moves around the screen the characters are looking at. I hate to use this word but this piece bores me, but then I think it might have intended to do this. I feel like I’m watching a fly trying to escape through a closed window in my house. The faceless people just keep viewing the mouse cursor, lost and staring at the screen. There’s something quite terrifying about it. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, a loss of our senses into an abyss of technology. Is that what is happening to us?

The last piece I see in the exhibition is ‘I Hate People But I Love You’ by aaajiao. A large video installation consists of a Mac operating screen, blown up and projected onto the gallery wall. On the screen a female anime tries talking to us, in a lifeless tone, “May I be your friend? Would you be my friend? Do I look real to you? I hope so…I hate people but I love you”. Blank pop up windows appear on the rest of the screen, operated by no one, in a hypnotic domino effect around the screen, covering the figure up at times. It draws our eyes around the piece, it’s the only thing really that is keeping my attention. There are no colours, or pink neon lights here to grab your attention. It feels deliberately emotionless, lifeless and it makes me feel alone. It leaves you longing for a real connection, the driving force I guess for most of our use of the Internet today.

‘Chinternet Ugly’ has left me with so many unanswered questions, very thought provoking. It was an exhibition where the works grabbed me first and foremost before I read their statements, and after which I felt enlightened again. Each piece was multifaceted which I loved about the show. It has been cleverly curated, each piece considering and emphasising the other. It’s an intense, fun, witty, conceptually layered, and at times not so aesthetically pleasing kinda show! I don’t think it cares either! It’s here to raise questions. It’s very relevant today and I don’t think its commentary is just solely based on China and the Internet, I think we can all relate to it and our own use of the Internet. Very user friendly, go see it!!!

Chinternet Ugly‘ is on at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art from 8th February – 12th May 2019.

Check out our What’s On Calender for more exhibitions and events.

Our guest blogger is Stefanie Trow. Stef is a contemporary artist based in Manchester who is currently on maternity leave. Stef has exhibited with Albemarle in London & Comme Ca Art in Manchester. Find out more on her Instagram @stef_trow_art and her website.

Our guest photographer, Felicity MeachEm, is a contemporary Fine Art Painting graduate, based at AWOL Studios in Ancoats, Manchester. Through her painting she explores the internationalism of pattern work and how it is a cultural fabric that overlaps. Felicity won First Runner up of The Graduate Art Prize 2018. Find out more on her Instagram @felicitymeachempainting and her website.

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