Unerasable Images

Installation images © Tim Bowditch (Unerasable Images v.1 – video)

(Unerasable Images v.2 – installation with a carousel slide projector)

Unerasable Images
Installation images by Mikkel Høgh Kaldal

Unerasable Images

(Unerasable Images v.3 – software installation)

Title: Unerasable Images

Year of production: 2018-2019

Medium: ver1: Video Documentary (3mins6 seconds, over 300 screenshots); ver2: Installation (with a vintage carousel slide projector); ver3: software installation (javascript and a web browser)

:: Description ::

The artwork presents screenshots from Google Image Search results for the search term “六四” (“64”),  a reference to the date of the student-led Tiananmen Square Protest in Beijing in 1989. The most iconic image of that day depicts an unidentified protestor referred to as ‘Tank Man’ facing down a column of advancing tanks. This photograph is routinely censored by authorities and blocked from any search results in China. In 2013, a Lego reconstruction of the Tank Man image started circulating before it, too, was quickly erased. Nevertheless, the image was later found beyond China, and it occasionally prioritizes in the first few rows of A Google image search.

With more than 300 screenshots were taken in 2017, this project aims to create a temporal and empty networked space where the thumbnail image(s) move within the hidden infrastructural grid and beyond the screenshot’s frame, thereby examining the geopolitics of data circulation, internet censorship and the materiality of image (re)production through a complex entanglement of human and nonhuman parameters.

:: Video Documentation ::

:: Review ::

“The reason for focusing on the reinterpretation of this particular image is that it has shown an ability to overcome the Chinese campaign of censor-ship of any reference to the protest, written or visual. The Lego tank man images, in contrast, disappear eventually but remain online longer than direct copies of the original image, which are taken down immediately. Re-interpreting images into unexpected forms thereby endows some visual content with a greater capacity to resist censorship than direct representa-tions, because they can be more difficult to automatically detect.” – Rosemary Lee (2020, p. 72)

“The award presented by the Artistic Director of this year’s edition of the Biennale goes to a work in which the artist used the traditional video technique, and which relates to the flow of information and its documentation, the presence of the image, the contemporary impossibility of its deletion and its return despite it being erased from public space. It is actually a post-video work in the times of post-truth.”– by Piotr Krajewski, artistic director of Media Art Biennale WRO 2019.

“Screenshooting the results and combining the pages, she created a video of the Lego Tank Man avartar-itself a replacement that can’t help but draw attention to the absence to the absence of its own original-in which he comes and goes, flickering into life to a relentless four-on-the-floor rhythm.” — by Harriet Riches (2019)

“…All miniature images on the screenshots were retouched by the artist to a white high-gloss surface. Only the Lego Tank Man picture appears again and again in different positions. This picture was once censored, but then reappeared after years. From the censorship’s point of view a mistake. On the other sidse, it leads us to hope and at the same time proves that loopholes still exist in the network of censorship.

Winnie Soon’s work is conceptually stringent and very suitable for the Network Culture competition. At the same time, it is a very courageous work, regarding the all-powerful Chinese censorship and the risk she takes of rebelling against it.” –Jury: Daniel Burkhardt & Marc Lee from Stuttgarter Filmwinter – Festival for Expanded Media

“Winnie Soon’s video Unerasable Images (2018) shows how heavy-handed censorship causes even a Lego rendering of the 1989 protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing to pop in and out of visibility on online platforms in China. ” –Hettie Judah

“The monitor shows screenshots of Soon’s Google search results for a censored image of a Lego character made to commemorate the ‘Tank Man’ protestor photographed by Stuart Franklin in Tiananmen Square in 1989. We are reminded of both the power of a single photograph and the lengths to which governments will go to repress images.” – Sarah Perks

“Winnie’s piece then traces this image as it resurfaces and “haunts” her searches in the resulting four years. It’s pieces like this that deal with Katrina’s question of: “Who is the photographer? Photographers are becoming more like robots, and robots are becoming more like photographers.” – Ruby Boddington

“The journey begins in empty space. Winnie Soon’s Unerasable Images consists of 300 screenshots taken in China in 2017. They display the results obtained when Google’s image search was tasked with finding the moment in 1989 outside Tiananmen Square in Beijing when a protester faced down a tank. Most of these screenshots are white fields, left barren by Chinese state censorship. There is a Lego version of the scene, though, which survived for months before a change in the algorithm, or human intervention, rooted it out.” – Lydia Nicholas in New Scientist (26. Jan. 2019)

“we have incisive diagnostics at work, exploring the new global image economy in all its uncanny vastness but also its potential for communication and political resistance. Winnie Soon’s ‘Unerasable Images’ (2018), for example, tracks the persistence of a certain image appearing in Google searches – a reproduction of the famous Tiananmen Square ‘Tank Man’ photograph made from Lego. Because it’s made from toy bricks, it dodges China’s censorship of the iconic picture in a way that’s cartoonish and silly but also moving.” – Review by Adam Heardman in this is tomorrow: Contemporary Art Magazine (12. Feb. 2019)

:: Exhibition Record(s) ::

  • 2020, The Image Looks Back/PHOTO festival, RMIT Gallery, Australia
  • 2019, 18th Media Art Biennale WRO 2019, Poland (Received the WRO 2019 Biennale Award)
  • 2019, The third biennial RESAW (Research Infrastructure for the Study of Archived Web Materials) conference, University of Amsterdam
  • 2019, Galleri Image, Aarhus, Denmark
  • 2019, Stuttgarter Filmwinter – Festival for Expanded Media 2019 (Received the Expanded Media Award for Network Culture)
  • 2018, The Photographer’s gallery, London, UK

:: References ::

:: Acknowledgement ::

* Polly Poon, Magda Tyżlik-Carve

Supported by Danish Arts Foundation and Aarhus University


Soon, W., 2018.Unerasable Images.Technoculture, Vol. 8.