Shùjùxiàn 數據線

6 new artworks for Artists Open Web 2018

What happens if we hack our own data traces by replacing them with even more muddled co-creations? Shùjùxiàn 數據線 or “drinking from the data lines” is a reflection on surveillance in China and the U.K, featured as a set of 6 gif artworks which I 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 becoming 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.

The 6 artworks of Shùjùxiàn were created out of a series of sticker exchanges I had with 8 makers and crafters in China and the U.K. Our chats were consensually monitored with a recording app, and then remixed and made into gif artworks on free and open source glitching apps, making their origins and contributor chains especially complicated to trace. By interrogating what it means to build new art forms across platforms where all interactions may be monitored at any time, Shùjùxiàn sends 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 exhibited in October 2018 at the Mozilla Festival in London along with other artworks in the Artists Open Web exhibit. 

I’d like to give a special thanks to the anonymous makers in China and the U.K. whom I spoke to, and made alongside, during this project, including (but not limited to) the official WeChat bot of the First Emperor of Qin.