Hardcore Digital Detox: A Conversation with Miao Ying

Installation View of Stones from Other Hills
Installation View of Stones from Other Hills
Installation View of Stones from Other Hills
Installation View of Stones from Other Hills
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During Shanghai Art Week, Leigh Tanner sat down with Miao Ying #IRL to talk with her about her new M+ commission Hardcore Digital Detox, her practice and her dream project.

TEXT: Leigh Tanner
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist

Installation View of Stones from Other Hills


A self-described resident of the internet, Shanghai born artist Miao Ying returned to her hometown this November for the opening of her new solo exhibition at MadeIn Gallery. Utilizing VR, oil paintings, video, and sculptures, Stones from Other Hills features the artist’s characteristic playful and humorous tone and hints at the content of the newly launched HardcoreDigitalDetox.com. Once again taking up lifestyle branding as her medium, the exhibition’s press release asserts that the “hardcore of HDD is the suggestion of a new, crude method of ‘fighting fire with fire’ data detoxification to achieve unexpected therapeutic effects.” Miao is known for a practice engaged with internet culture, most famously her 2016 work Chinternet Plus commissioned by the New Museum, and the recently opened exhibition does not disappoint in its tongue-in-cheek exploration of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle in this technological age. Guidance from both the show and the HDD website itself includes #drawaselfie, #nofilterbubble, #confuseyourcookie and #noFOMO.


Can you tell me a little bit about the origin of Hardcore Digital Detox?

Using websites as a medium to make works is an important material for me. In parallel with Chinternet Plus, this is also a project where the core of the work is based on the internet. The installation is more like an advertisement for the concept of the website, like a strategic proposal. I grew up in China and when we were kids even in school, we used to watch PPTs. We didn’t even have the software, but always had the ideology keynotes. In this way, ideologies are really abstract presentations. When I started the project, the website came first. The website also gets constantly updated, it exists as an ongoing thing. The exhibition [Stones from Other Hills] is just one aspect, and focuses more on analog art. 


Installation View of Stones from Other Hills


Does that mean that if visitors come to see the show and don’t actually go online (HardcoreDigitalDetox.com) to see the website, they haven’t experienced the work?

It’s more like the Apple Store. You can visit all the products on the store, but also online. I like the idea of lifestyle branding and the experience center – that’s what we call it in China. If you to go to Apple’s experience center, or if you want to go to see some other lifestyle branding, the product itself – they don’t really put it in front of your face. It’s more to experience the atmosphere of the environment, the style, the aesthetics. And then gradually you realize, “oh this is the product.” That’s why in the exhibition space you actually do not see the website at all. It’s just the website address. I did that on purpose. I want people to walk in and think, what is this? It exists online and you can visit it anytime so I thought it was not necessary to show the real object of the website in the space. It’s more like an advertisement for it.


You work a lot with the internet and especially the Chinese internet, and now there’s more and more discourse about how unique and distinct the Chinese internet is. Do you find that Chinese audiences respond differently to your work than US audiences because of this background?

I feel like I have to lower the standards of technology when I am showing my work in a western context. The Chinese adapt to new technology way faster. In China, everyone is using Alipay and mobile payments. Even my parent’s generation, they don’t use cash at all. They don’t even use credit cards. In a way, here its advanced because all the western platforms are trying to make a giant app like WeChat. You don’t ever need to leave the app, everything you need to do is all integrated in one place, whereas Facebook or Instagram all have their special functionalities. It’s not just because of the restrictions, not just censorship.


You use a lot of humor in your work. Is this is something that comes naturally or something you try to cultivate as an creative device?

I think part of the reason why I really want my work to be humorous instead of very serious is because I grew up in a very serious environment. Partly why I wanted to focus on the whole internet environment is because I was really shocked and moved by Chinese netizens’ online activities. Around 2008 when social media was starting to get popular in China, I saw for the first time how netizens are especially creative. That’s when I began to think that self-censorship is really interesting. If something is censored then netizens will make a word or image that sounds like it and later on, make an internet meme. All that is to say, I didn’t know that Chinese could be that funny. I think that’s part of the motivation. That humor is something that as a Chinese – its not something that I saw traditionally and I think on the internet it’s a tool. With all the limitations in China, it was still giving people in China a chance to create all these things online and communicate in new ways.


Installation View of Stones from Other Hills


Do you practice digital detox at all?

[Laughs] Actually the whole project started when I was in London at a museum bookstore and I saw this book about digital detox. Actually, there was a lot of them and I picked one up and started to read it. The whole thing about the project Hardcore Digital Detox is actually not about digital detox. That’s what makes it funny. Where it went wrong was not because we spent too much time on our phones. I would say… I don’t [practice digital detox]. I don’t think detox is the solution for the problem.


One of the works in the exhibition, Happily Contained, utilizes virtual reality. Is this your first time working with VR?

Yes, it is. The piece was commissioned by Hayward Gallery for Art Night London this year. It was my very first time and also very different because the whole production team was in London. I was in New York at the time, so I had to be back and forth. I find it really interesting to get to know what the limitations are of a medium. Every time I work with a new medium, I think the most fascinating part is the things you cannot to. And that, in a way, is how new mediums get developed. For me, it’s fun to explore it and if possible, in the future, I might do more VR works.


Installation View of Stones from Other Hills


Can you tell me about the title of the exhibition Stones from Other Hills?

“Stones from other hills may polish the jade of this one” is an old Chinese phrase. Essentially, it means other people’s problems can be your solution. Because I am based in both China and the United States, I sometimes feel like they have very different methods working towards the same results in a way. We’re all restricted by the filter bubble. When I think of the filter bubble, in that you only see what you want to see, it’s a form of self-censorship. Whereas here [in China] its censorship, but in a different way. At this moment, it’s almost like this Chinese stone, if you put it elsewhere, it might be interesting to think about. 


What are you working on next?

Hardcore Digital Detox is going to keep growing and I will keep updating the website, even adding new methods to it. Also, I’m working on my next solo show which is going to be in Vienna in January. And also, a group show at the New Museum in January.


Do you have a dream project you would work if absolutely anything were possible?

Some of my work deals with censorship. In 2007, the first internet piece of mine [Blind Spot] which existed offline, was a dictionary. That was when google.cn still existed in China. I erased the words that were censored by Google in the dictionary, but the meaning was left so when reading it, you could still guess what words had been erased. Of course, the whole process was absurd because the list updates all the time and there’s no way to really find out what words are on the list. The very next year during the Olympics in 2008, the list was really short – within not even a year, it changed dramatically. So my ultimate goal would be to one day work with a technician at the internet bureau [Cyberspace Administration of China]. To understand the logic of the Great Firewall and work with a technician who’s really building it would be amazing. 



Stones from Other Hills
Nov. 5th, 2018 – Dec. 29th. 2018
MadeIn Gallery



About the Artist

Miao Ying was born in Shanghai, China. She holds an MFA in Electronic Integrated Arts from the School of Art and Design at Alfred University and a BFA in New Media Arts from China Academy of Fine Arts. She resides in New York and Shanghai.

Her work highlights the attempts to discuss and explore existentially, the possibilities of the internet, the Chinese Internet (Great Fire Wall), along with the new modes of politics, aesthetics and contemporary consciousness created during the representation of reality through technology.

Her most recent solo exhibitions include: “ Miao Ying:Chinternet Plus ”, First Look: New Art Online (New Museum, New York, 2016), “Content Aware” (Madein Gallery, Shanghai, 2016), “Chinternet How: a love story” (Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Vienna, 2016), “Holding a Kitchen Knife to Cut the Internet Cable” (Folklore of the cyber world: an online Exhibition for the Chinese Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia 2015). She has shown her works at the KW institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin 2016), Minsheng Art Museum(Shanghai 2016), Taking Space (Beijing 2016), OCAT Shanghai (Shanghai 2015), Times Art Museum (Guangzhou 2015), CAFA Art Museum (Beijing 2015), Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (Beijing 2014), Gallery Linz (Linz 2011), Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, 2010), Museum of Contemporary Art (Taipei 2008), Shanghai Art Museum (Shanghai 2007) and The Wrong—New Digital Art Biennale (online 2015). In 2016, she has been nominated for Prix YISHU 8 Chine 2016. In 2015, she was nominated for the TAN Asia Prize and the 3rd Huayu Youth Adward.




Leigh Tanner completed her BA in Art History from Stanford University and MA in Critical and Curatorial Studies from Columbia University. She has previously worked in the Research and Exhibitions Departments of the Shanghai Project, an interdisciplinary ideas platform launched in 2016 at the Shanghai Himalayas Museum.

Her time at the Shanghai Project as well as earlier experiences in the curatorial departments of the International Center of Photography and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, have led her to believe passionately in the importance of institutions and to found Museum 2050, a platform for exploring the future of museums through the lens of China. She is currently an independent curator based in Shanghai.



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