How to [Manipulate] the Mao Experience Through Internet…

| by Winnie Soon |

In her essay, “A Thing Like You and Me”, Hito Steyerl[1] provides a striking remark for a notion of manipulation from a material perspective:

“…So then how about a specific thing called ‘image’? It is a complete mystification to think of the digital image as a shiny immortal clone of itself. On the contrary, not even the digital image is outside history. It bears the bruises of its crashes with politics and violence. […] The bruises of images are its glitches and artifacts, the traces of its rips and transfers. Images are violated, ripped apart, subjected to interrogation and probing. They are stolen, cropped, edited, and re-appropriated. They are bought, sold, leased. Manipulated and adulated. Reviled and revered. To participate in the image means to take part in all of this.”

“How to get the Mao experience through Internet…” (2014) explores the socio-technical and socio-political aspects of the digital manipulation of Mao images. It aims to recalibrate the focus of its imagery, transitioning from a focus on representation to the material dimensions of the image: the digital format as a thing and socio-technical networks as partly constitutive of such thingness. Its specific characteristics of grainy textures, continuous looping sequences and captured frames can be seen as expressive of social forces, political tensions and transformational events, interrogating how a digital format reconfigures the experience of a public space and public figure.

Inspired by Matthew Britton’s piece “How to get the Mona Lisa experience through flickr…” (2012), this work follows Britton’s method of placing a particular figure at the center of every image, producing an animated GIF which runs with a computer screen through a browser display. The GIF consists of more than 30 image frames found and extracted from different online media platforms, including Google image search, flickr image search and Baidu image search. These images are combined and re-appropriated from one digital format to another (typically from the .JPG image format to that of the .GIF). The stitched together frames form a collaborative animation with more than 30 unknown/known internet producers.

According to Steyerl, a digital image is “a condensation of social forces,” and so-called found images, such as those in this work, are themselves things that “consist of tensions, forces, hidden powers, all being constantly exchanged.” Such a thing cannot be reduced to a simple object. This work explores the “Mao experience” through an Internet-connected screen that comes with different spatial/temporal/social/political happenings, medium specificities, subjectivities and performances. In this case, a GIF image format that contains a noticeably grainy texture, assembling and animating endlessly via the browser display. This new image thing in turn enters into search databases where code, algorithms and user keyword searches all contribute to the constant manipulation of what a thing might be.

Steyerl, Hito, “A Thing Like You and Me”, e-flux Journal 15, April, 2010


Winnie Soon is an artist-researcher and her works examine network culture and computational processes. She is currently PhD fellow at Participatory IT research center (Department of Aesthetics and Communication) in Aarhus University.