For the Record is a regular series where we ask local tastemakers about a cultural niche. This month we spoke to Shanghai- and Berlin-based new media artist Aaajiao about documenting the internet age.
In this age of digital communication, questions about our use and growing dependence on technology have become more and more prevalent. In China especially, mobile phones have become extensions of our bodies, acting as permanent attachments of our hands, a magic screen through which we can access the rest of the world.
Shanghai and Berlin-based artist Aaajiao, or Xu Wenkai, is one of China’s best-known new media artists. He explores the ways in which we use new technologies to communicate with one another in everyday life. His recent exhibition, Bot, investigated digital communication and the appearance and perception of ourselves as users within a digital world.
Aaajiao currently has works on show in two separate group exhibitions in Shanghai - Nine Journeys Through Time in Yuz Museum and Open Codes in Chronus Art Center. His works have been known to make use of inflatable structures to represent ourselves as ‘bots,’ while he also uses coded simulations to represent the significance, or lack thereof, of communication on the internet.
In our latest installment of For the Record, Aaajiao speaks on how the internet and digital technology inform the way we communicate with one another.
Image courtesy of Yuz Museum
“I spend a lot of time using my mobile phone, somewhere between six and seven hours a day, my mobile phone has become my compound eye.
“We seem to like to treat people’s behavior on the internet as something in and of itself. The internet is, in fact, a new stage of human communication. Communication is not a new thing.
“I have always questioned empathy, especially through visual art, especially in the moment. Many of my works just act as the background of the audience’s self-portrait, a reflection of themselves.
“In my exhibition ‘Bot,’ the bot in question examines the functions and quirks of our fragmented attention to our memories after we have become users on the internet.
“In that sense, a self-timer is the easiest way to see yourself. There are countless yourselves on your phone. In that case, are you not a bot?
“It seems to me that human civilization has always existed in some form of crisis, and because we live in the present tense, we feel it all the time.
“When I take a step backwards and see myself in the form of a bot, it feels very similar to the way we look at Chinese traditional gardens. Therefore, I use a transparent inflatable object to represent this outer body feeling.”
You can catch Aaajiao’s work at:
[Cover image courtesy of artist]