Shùjùxiàn 數據線

Gif exhibit for Artists Open Web


Is it possible to hack the spatial properties of our data traces by co-creating intentionally muddled and glitched digital artefacts that transcend national borders? Shùjùxiàn 數據線 or “drinking from the data lines” was a reflection on surveillance between makers in China and the U.K, which resulted in a series of 6 gif artworks that were hacked from a data grapevine of donated ’stickers’, or customised mp4 images that are shared widely amongst the 1 billion users of the WeChat platform in China.

As a result of revelations around the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 in the U.K. and the continued government surveillance of apps like WeChat behind the Great Firewall of China, it is widely known that personal data in both nations may be monitored. Despite these revelations, WeChat continues to dominate the app market in China, and is increasingly being used for everything, from exchanges of capital to restaurant payments to neighbourhood groups. Meanwhile, peer production movements like DIWO (Do It With Others) aim to inspire citizens to disrupt hegemonic systems by by building creative resistance through networked, participatory interventions.

I created the 6 artworks of Shùjùxiàn from a series of sticker exchanges with 8 makers across China and the U.K. Our chats were consensually monitored with a recording app, and then remixed into gif artworks on other apps like Instagram, making their origins and contributor chains difficult to trace. By interrogating what it means to build new art forms across platforms where all interactions may be monitored at any time, Shùjùxiàn sent would-be government detectives on a playful hunt through a set of convergent medias from increasingly recursive sticker exchanges between decentralised WeChat networks.

Shùjùxiàn was featured in October 2018 at the Mozilla Festival in London for the Artists Open Web exhibit, and I also wrote a chapter about it for the Critical Makers Reader: (Un)Learning Technology, published by the Institute of Network Cultures in 2019.