Can we mourn digitally? Can virtual portals encourage communities to coalesce? Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and on the occasion of the Qingming Festival, one of the largest national holidays in many Asian countries, we would like to dedicate a space of remembrance to victims and families who have been affected. Each year on April 4th, Chinese families honor the dead by visiting the gravesites of their ancestors, performing cleansing rituals like tomb-sweeping and making special offerings. Co-created by artists Huiyi Chen, Rui An, and Jiabao Li in 2020, Qing Ming: A Sculpture of Resilience is an online monument that merges the impossibility of physically visiting graves and paying tributes to loved ones with the mechanics of 3D navigation.
Upon entering the portal, you are taken directly to the Hongshan Auditorium in Wuhan. It was here that the 4th session of the 12th National People’s Congress of Hubei Province took place, before the pandemic officially broke out in January of 2020. The simplified outlines of the street layout reside somewhere between the real architectural spaces of the city and the flowy contours of black and white dreamscapes. Some streets and buildings are named, while others are left blank and abstract, calling to mind the way Wuhan was perceived as a distant, vague place, especially by people abroad who only first heard about it as the center of a deadly epidemic.
Resembling a messy ball of digital yarn, the Sculpture of Resilience is the totality of each counterclockwise trajectory that a visitor has taken. You are prompted to join, enter a username, and become a part of a collective hive mind to remember the impact of this prolonged global health crisis. Literature about the public functions of monuments and memorials often distinguish the two by defining the former as that which celebrates victories and triumphant values, the latter as that which commemorates tragedy and loss. When official rhetoric in China was quick to embrace a celebratory stance over the government’s response to COVID-19, the creators of Qing Ming wanted to build a platform to remember the sadness and anger that people felt. While the project hones in on the solemnity of human loss, it also affirms visitors’ participation as a process of coming together. Solidarity in mourning is made evident by the overlapping trajectories of the thousands of people who have left their traces. As the Chinese proverb goes: While a single chopstick is easily broken, a bundle of chopsticks is not.
In an era where government and capital increasingly infringe upon public space, digital space has become an alternative for gathering and generating social discourse, and hence a realm where corporate entities contend for control and cultural capital. Google launched an interactive online monument using augmented reality to celebrate the legacy of the Stonewall Riots; on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, the search results for certain trending topics is called “plaza”, referring to its public realm function; on Pokémon Go, anonymous users memorialized the life of 12 year old Tamir Rice, who was murdered by police at a gazebo in Cleveland, Ohio, by changing the description of the gazebo in the AR game. Where public service has failed, artists, grassroot movements, and corporations come in to fill the void.
Google Map Image of Hongshan Auditorium, Wuhan.
The creators of Qing Ming generated a 3D model based on data collected from the website, and uploaded it to mentions of Hongshan Auditorium on major online maps. This intervention collapses what we perceive to be the boundary between the physical and virtual, the officially-sanctioned and the community-driven. In a way, it constitutes what scholar James E. Young calls the “counter-monument”, which is defined as ephemeral, interactive, and provocative “memorial spaces conceived to challenge the very premises of their being”1 . In fact, the visitor’s counterclockwise movement is a self-conscious defiance of linear, territorial understandings of time, memory, and place.
As a staticky, melancholic soundtrack plays in the background, the project encourages users to think about the systemic problems exposed by the pandemic, while at the same time ritualizing the act of navigating and rotating around the digital sculpture, giving a new dimensionality to mourning and remembering. Just as in the process of rapid urbanization, families burning traditional Chinese Joss paper in front of skyscrapers is a paradoxical sight to behold, perhaps the temporary loss of traditional modes of mourning is in itself is a loss to be mourned.
1. [James E. Young, “The German Counter‐Monument,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 18, No. 2. (Winter, 1992), pp. 271‐272, 272-274, 274‐278, 279, 294‐295.]↩
Enjoy the work: Qing Ming: A Sculpture of Resilience
About the creators:
Huiyi is a Chinese-born, New York based artist and researcher working in performance, moving image, and interactive experience. She is fascinated by the relationship between individuals and power structures around them: how power structures are formed, how they shape individual beings and human resilience. Her current practices focus on investigating human agency at a time when feelings and desires could be quantified and algorithmically predicted.
Rui An has a background in computer graphics and artificial intelligence. He previously worked at TeamLab as an interactive designer/programmer and was the principle programmer in Critical Technology Studies Lab at National Center for Supercomputing Applications. He uses custom-made software as a medium to create interactions between speculative imaginations and possible realities.
Working at the intersection of emerging technology, art and design, Jiabao Li creates new ways for humans to perceive the world. Jiabao's TED Talk reveals how technology frames reality. Jiabao's work has been shown in Ars Electronica, SIGGRAPH, Anchorage Museum, OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal, Milan and Dubai Design Week, ISEA. She was awarded STARTS Prize, NEA, FastCoDesign, iF Design, Core77. Her work has been featured in Leonardo, TechCrunch, Bloomberg, Domus.
For Show and Tell, Special Special invites a selection of artists to produce or share work that can be viewed in the browser, downloaded, or streamed. The work is presented as a series of digital exhibitions periodically delivered to email inboxes.