Personal Research — Fall 2020
Personal Research — Fall 2020
From the project introduction by James Goggin: Since the tragic and unnecessary police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year (not to mention Breonna Taylor and countless other Black lives going back more than 400 years), over 100 Confederate monuments, memorials, and statues have been removed or scheduled for removal in the United States. More statues commemorating historical villains and tyrants have been felled around the world, in places like Bristol (United Kingdom) and Antwerp (Belgium).
This reappraisal of public monuments is obviously just one small part of a much wider necessary and long overdue reckoning with systemic racism nationally and internationally. But as a particularly visible contem-porary flashpoint and with relevance to the graphic designer’s position as a mediator of information and documentation, I hope that the status of public space and memorial is worthy of analysis, as a lens through which we might explore the responsibility we have as a discipline, and as citizens, to document lives and memories, and to counter prevailing histories and challenge power structures.
Artist, teacher, editor, and curator Ken Lum, co-founder of Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based independent public art and history studio, describes monuments as “mnemonic devices.” Their traditional function, he elaborates, “has been to activate or even sustain a certain narrative of memory which people of influence have deemed worthy or important to maintain.” As Los Angeles Times journalist and columnist Carolina A. Miranda confirms, “many monuments are built as incarnations of power.”
What kinds of humble, relational, and practical roles might graphic designers play in corrective and revisionist approaches to traditional memorials, the communication of more personal and more inclusive histories and memories, and the cooperation between participants (architects, urban planners, community groups) in public urban (and rural) spaces? This project invites you to engage in research, personal experience, interdisciplinary dialogue, collaborative practice, and time and place, to formulate speculative site-specific physical and/or virtual proposals for new forms of collective narrative and commemoration.
After the one-day tour and exploration of the monuments in Providence, I tried searching for inspirations based on my own experience. As far as I can remember, most of the monuments in China memorialize war history, with a few exceptions commemorating individual achievements. These monuments are seen as symbols of greatness; they represent the history of China’s development and are a presence that cannot be questioned. But there is a history we cannot see, a “hidden” history that has the right to be remembered.
Chinese contemporary artist Yue Minju is renowned for his smiling sculpture created from his oil painting series. From the big smile and naked body, the audience encounters a gesture of extreme political and social satire, getting little pleasure from it. For me, his works are not just art for the public; they are also monuments to remember and reflect on those bleak days — the Cultural Revolution.
Based on Yue Minjun’s works, I chose Chinese internet firewalls to be my focus. These firewalls can trigger quite concrete pictures each time we discuss them, although they are relatively abstract objects. The departure of Google from mainland China in 2010 indicated the end of the ten-year internet conflict between the CCP and Google. Chinese internet companies started to rise the market from then on, and subsequently the firewall was established. After that, we needed to get accustomed to being supervised and controlled in the name of user security and through means such as bans on sensitive words or political opinions. But the firewall was only an abstract concept to me as a kid since it had nothing to do with my life until I came out from within it. As I started to explore the bigger world, I realized there was only one voice allowed in the society I used to live in — one that might affect or even suppress different voices. Luckily, I grew up in a family that encouraged freedom and knowledge and taught me to embrace difference, which allowed me to realize the difference between inside and outside the wall. Several years later, as the firewall in China developed quickly, the stricter control made more vocabularies sensitive, more truth was hidden, public opinion was controlled, and overwhelming patriotic declarations attracted more young followers. The illegality of VPNs last year triggered me into real reflection.
Thus, I decided to create an ironic monument/public art piece to reflect the internet situation in China. Unlike an ordinary maze, the one I created is made up of the word “internet.” The audience can interact with the maze by, for example, standing on the stairs to see the scenery outside of the wall or touching the surface to leave a trace of themselves. Each element of the design is a metaphor that the audience needs to contextualize to understand the meaning behind the maze.
This is a maze but also a choice.
Metaphor: We are inside the firewall, but whether you choose to leave, stay, or fight is your own choice.
There are stairs in the maze, through which the audience can climb to the top of the maze.
Metaphor: Stairs are like tools, VPN, helping you see the outside world.
A naked person, without gender, stands above the maze.
Metaphor: We exist on the Internet. Just like being naked, anyone can monitor us.
Some books are stacked in the center of the maze.
Metaphor: Knowledge helps you recognize reality and broaden your horizons.
You can touch the metal surface and leave your trace on the wall.
Metaphor: You recognize yourself on the Internet and leave traces of your past.
People outside the maze can see the inside of the maze through the stairs outside.
Metaphor: The outside world can also see the people inside the firewall.