2 0 2 1
Computer vision algorithm development: Weihao Qiu
Short video collection: Danming Kang, Meixuan Wang, Zi Xun
(Undergraduate students; Duke Kunshan University)
The first collaborative initiative between CAC Lab and Duke Kunshan University’s Humanities Research Center, the Fellowship aims to support and advance research-based artistic practice, with a particular emphasis on practitioners who employ or interrogate technology in the conception and production of their work. The selection was based on the strength of the proposed project, the proposal’s relevance to this session’s topic (“World Wide What”), and its feasibility.
In “Wind Verification”, Guo Cheng disputes the relationship between the common perception of social media as altered, selective representation of reality, and art as means for collective “peer-review” of the unverified viral, in an attempt to provide alternative visions to what post COVID-19 “World Wide What” could become. Wind Verification draws on the practices of the likes of Giuseppe Penone and Forensic Architecture in an attempt to further legitimize creative practices not only as means for critical inquiry but as potential tools to bring about change.
Wind Verification is conceptually powerful and technologically ambitious. The project’s technical framework ranges from the computer vision algorithm analysing crowd-sourced footage scraped from mainly East Asian social media, to a physical installation setting that will use fans to recreate ‘verified wind’ realities. GUO Cheng aims to draw new potential functional purposes for social media and elaborate on a range of tools required for such advances to be achievable.
About the Project
“Wind Verification” is a research-creation project based on the virtual anthropological field of social media networks in the context of mass surveillance. The installation attempts to reproduce the observable but invisible object – wind – in short videos uploaded by social network users in an indoor space. The installation consists of a flag, a web server rack, a wire bed, a screen, an air compressor and a custom control system. The selected short videos with flags are fed to the installation, where a computer vision algorithm analyzes the direction of the flag in the video, subsequently blowing the physical flag based on the analyzed data; to make its state similar to the one in the video. The installation is therefore trying to reconstruct the state of the wind in the physical world that exists in the digital image.
“Wind Verification” aims to show how the emergence and popularity of short video social platforms such as TikTok and Kwai has led to a subversive change in that the grassroots can directly participate in the struggle for information discourse, and the possibilities of bottom-up data analysis and processing. It is also a metaphor for the current era: the digital reality is becoming the new reality.
Recalling the content of China’s first email in 1987: “Across the Great Wall, we can reach every corner in the world”. Apart from the profound metaphor of the “Great Wall”, currently the concepts of “we” and “the world” are changing. The popularity of social media is erasing the corners of the world. The data collecting methods of mass surveillance have expanded from active capturing of data and images to passively receiving and analyzing of the content that users submit to the online social media platforms. As Byung-Chul Han described the digital Panopticon: “big data” becomes the “big brother,” while the residents inside are not isolated, but are connected to each other. This “hyper-communication” creates a comprehensive surveillance, and at the same time blurs the boundaries between those who monitor and those who are monitored.
Simultaneously, in the context of the popularity of short-form video social platforms in China such as TikTok and Kwai, the blurry identity of “monitor” led grassroots movements to direct participation in the struggle for power, shifting the discourse from the bottom up. The impact of this participation is subversive and can be seen in contrast to the information flow during the 2003 and 2020 epidemics: during SARS (2003) information was transmitted top-down through the official media, resulting in a highly uniform portrayal of social conditions at the time. During Covid-19 (2020), users on Chinese social networks uploaded large quantities of footage from personal perspectives, which provided a comprehensive image of the social situation at the time. Some of them contradicted the mainstream media propaganda and disappeared instantly due to censorship.
Guiseppe Penone’s work “To turn one’s eyes inside out” has created a new metaphor in the present: the social media platform has made us, with our electronic eyes (smart phones), no longer mere receivers of information, but mirrors that can instantly show the world. The right to interpret the truth of the incident from single perspective was thus eliminated. Everyone can upload their own photos and videos to the online platform, thus, there may be the various visual resources around the same event which provide multiple perspectives. It offers the possibility of a virtual presence for all. In the practice of Forensic Architecture, through the use of open-source images available on the Internet and data captured by activists, they conduct site recovery and analysis to restore the truth. For example, in the Grenfell Tower fire project, the Forensic Architecture team knitting together thousands of open-source photographs, videos and reams of metadata related to the fire, recreated the conditions of the fire scene. This shows that videos and images disseminated on social media can be rich in background information, in addition to the main subject of the narrative.
Based on the anthropological field of social media networks in the context of mass surveillance, “Wind Verification” uses a topological approach based on computer vision technology to analyze video clips with flags on social media. The installation generates the wind that changes with the switching of video clips, and presents it in a visual and sensorial way. While the project shows the possibilities of bottom-up data collection, analysis and processing, it also presents a metaphor outlining the current era: the digital reality is becoming the new reality.
GUO Cheng (b.1988, Beijing), currently lives and works in Shanghai. He was graduated from MA Design Products at Royal College of Art (London, UK) and obtained his BE in Industrial Design at Tongji University (Shanghai, China). His practice mainly focuses on exploring the interrelation between mainstream/emerging technologies and individuals under the context of culture and social life.
His recent exhibitions include: Almost Unmeant, Magician Space, Beijing, China (solo show, 2020), ‘Down to Eearth’, Canton Gallery (solo show, 2019), Terminal>_ How Do We Begin?, X museum, Beijing(2020), The Eternal Network (exhibition of Transmediale 2020), HKW, Berlin, Germany (2020), ‘The Process of Art: TOOLS AT WORK’, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, China (2019), ‘Notes from Pallet Town’, UCCA Dune, Qinhuangdao, China (2019); ‘Deja vu’, Today Art Museum, Beijing, China (2019); ‘Open Codes. Connected Bots’, Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, China (2019); ‘Free Panorama’, Pingshan Culture Center, Shenzhen, China (2019); ‘Tracing the Mushroom at the End of the World’, Taikang Space, Beijing, China (2019); ‘Shanghai Beat’, Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto, Japan (2018); ‘Machines Are Not Alone: A Mechanic Trilogy’, Chronus Art Center, Shanghai (2018); ‘Life Time’, Mu Art Space, Eindhoven (2017); ‘The Ecstasy of Time’, He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen (2017) etc.
He obtained Ars Electronica Honorary Mentions (2020), the Digital Earth fellowship (2018-2019), the Special Jury Prize of Huayu Youth Award (Sanya, 2018), and the BADaward (The Hague, 2017). His work ‘An Apophanous Overfitting'(a part of the collective project Tulip Pyramid – A Project of Copy and Identity) won Gijs Bakker Awards(The Netherlands, 2016).
GUO Cheng worked as Executive Director at Chronus Art Center, the visiting researcher at Dept. Environment & Health, Vrije University (Amsterdam) and has been serving as Visiting Lecturer at College of Design and Innovation(Tongji University, Shanghai) since 2013.