David Thomas Johnson's


Will Technology Still Save China? omg idk! (or, "The Ark.")

Posted by David on January 19, 2010 at 9:39 PM

"The Ark"... An expression of optimism over the impact of the Internet on China's future.

While I lived in Beijing, I made as frequent trips as I could to the 798 Art District in the city's northwest. (An aside on the Wikipedia article: note the Bauhaus architecture; ignore the dribble about 798 facing "impending destruction," if I haven't managed to get that bit removed.)

I was fascinated by the paradox of the District's existence: Mere miles from Tian'anmen Square, and the center of the bureaucracy's power, sat a community whose most exalted values included subversive critiques of the government.

Even more befuddling, Beijing's elite businesspersons and political figures purchased and valued the very art that sought to undermine them, seemingly without irony.

The long history of delicate balance between patron and artist aside, Beijing's czars tolerate the District with the implicit assumption that, on a whole, the Chinese art world is a fringe community, with sponsors and buyers restricted mostly to intellectuals whose privileged education usually comes by virtue of success--personal or paternal--in the business and/or bureaucratic world (these two being largely inseparable). Besides the complicit relationship to the government that such success implies, the potential risk posed by the community is rather limited.

In this way, China's artists are surprisingly free to produce critical works that run the full gradient of subtlety all the way from L'avventura ("...What?") to Avatar ("Club me over the head until I bleed green!").

I once encountered the sculpture above, which should fall somewhere in the middle of such a scale. It was titled "The Ark" and, to anyone who hears this and recognizes the procession of Internet Explorer logos, the piece should reveal itself as a rather obvious expression of optimism over the impact of the Internet on China's future.

I guess my point, in light of recent events, is that technology is largely agnostic unto itself. Technology simply amplifies human desire, for good or for bad. I would no more moralize about the Internet than I would about a hammer, even in the wrong hands. (Extending this logic to guns presents more of a challenge, though I'd argue that guns often represent applied technology signally intent.)

Of course, I'm just babbling at this point, because I, too, see a case for optimism where China and the Internet are concerned, but it's become apparent that the ride won't be as smooth as some have predicted.

Note: I've exhausted all of my Google juice trying to discover the artist behind "The Ark," but remain fruitless. Please shoot me any leads.

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