The Chinternet Archive
-- Artist statement
The Chinternet Archive is an ongoing archival project which currently consists of over 40,000 images, gif animations and videos that were hand-picked from WeChat (Weixin 微信) since April 2014 by artist, researcher and curator, Michelle Proksell. The archive began from Proksell’s collaborative research on Chinese selfie culture with media anthropologist, Dr. Gabriele de Seta.
To collect this content Proksell uses a function within the WeChat app called “People Nearby,” which uses the device’s location-based services to display content from users within a 1,000 meter radius who enable the feature. In using this function, Proksell has amassed a collection of vernacular creations that span across different locales, including cities within China such as Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, Guilin, Yanshuo, Xi’an, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong, as well as various other countries like Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, United States, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Portugal.
Each location reveals localized Chinese characteristics through the “Moments” users post. These Moments are short textual posts accompanied by one or more images, displayed in an infinite scroll similar to a Facebook feed, and consists of content that users see important enough to share with their pengyouquan 朋友圈 or friend circle. Digital content from these Moments make up the bulk of artefacts collected for The Chinternet Archive and Proksell’s acts of collecting and archiving this content position her as a kind of archaeologist of the present.
Though the origin of the archive stems from collecting selfies, Proksell quickly expanded the content to include digital artefacts that represent many facets of contemporary China. This includes visual and textual artefacts related to home and work environments, politics and forms of nationalism, weather and industry disasters, digital aesthetics from Chinese photo editing apps, e-commerce and Chinese consumerism, memes and trends, human-technology interactions and emerging technologies, to name a few. Content in the archive includes imagery posted by migrant workers, farmers, business people, cooks, homemakers, retailers, nurses, doctors, prostitutes, waiters, shopkeepers, cleaners, travellers and people living abroad, children, teenagers, adults and old people, effectively representing a wide range of Chinese demographics.
In her efforts to display The Chinternet Archive publicly, Proksell maintained an on-going performance called “Today Chinternet,” which included daily curated compositions from the archive with short accompanied texts or phrases posted to her WeChat Moments. This on-going performative upload provided both a public domain for which content from the archive could be shared, but also resulted in feedback from Proksell’s Chinese followers who sent additional digital artefacts to her so that she could expand the archive further. Therefore, The Chinternet Archive has grown from the collective efforts of Proksell, her collaborators, and WeChat users.
Additionally, Proksell and her research partner, de Seta, have also analysed and translated content from The Chinternet Archive into multiple formats including academic articles, online publications, lectures, interviews, artworks, and exhibitions in North America, Asia and Europe. As of yet, The Chinternet Archive is private but Proksell has hopes of finding an institution to house and preserve these digital artefacts in such a way that other researchers and artists can gain access to its content so as to expand knowledge about contemporary China and vernacular photography.
More information: michelleproksell.com