Unerasable Characters II

Title: Unerasable Characters II / 刪不了的符號 II
Year of production: 2020

RUN the program here

:: Description ::

The project explores the politics of erasure and the temporality of voices within the context of digital authoritarianism. It presents the sheer scale of unheard voices by technically examining and culturally reflecting the endlessness, and its wider consequences, of censorship that is implemented through technological platforms and infrastructure.

作品探討刪除的政治性及在數碼威權主義下各種聲音存在的時間性。作品不間斷及有規模性地呈現刪除及被刪除的聲音,並透過技術性檢驗及文化上的反思去讓 觀眾思考審查制度在不同的科技平台及架構下所帶來的影響。

The project collects unheard voices in the form of censored/erased (permission denied) text, including emojis, symbols, English and Chinese characters, which is based on one of the biggest social media platform in China called Weibo. A daily scraping script is used to fetch those text via Weiboscope, a data collection and visualization project, developed by Dr. Fu King Wa from Hong Kong University, in which the system has been regularly sampling timelines of a set of selected Chinese microbloggers who have more than 1,000 followers or whose posts are frequently censored.

Consisting of a custom-software (written in Python and p5.js) that scrapes the erased “tweets” from Weiboscope on a daily basis, the project presents the archives in a grid format. Each tweet is deconstructed into a character-by-character display that occupies a flashing unit for a limited period. The duration of each ‘tweet’ is computed from the actual visible time on Weibo, and the visual will transform from a busy canvas to an empty one with all disappearance of text. The program will then fetch a new set of archives and the cycle will repeat endlessly.

作品收集各種在微博上被審查 / 刪走的聲音,當中包括 emoji、符號、中文及英文字詞。作品透過特製程式,每天收集這些推文,並以格框編排。每個推文經過逐字解構,它們出現的時間長短等於其可被看見的時間。一開始密密麻麻的畫面慢慢變成空白歸零,然後程式會搜尋下一組目標,循環不息地展現及消失於空間。

(see the project development here on Github)

:: Video Documentation ::

more images here

:: Exhibition Record(s) ::

  • May, 2022 (forthcoming), Harvard Art Museums Lightbox Gallery, USA
  • Feb, 2022, [esc] media art lab, Austria
  • Mar, 2021, Posthuman exhibition as part of Electronic Literature Organization, University of Bergen, Norway. Curated by Eamon O’Kane, Jason Nelson, Scott Rettberg and Joseph Tabbi. (also available online)
  • Mar, 2021, 26th ifva awards, Pao Galleries, Hong Kong Arts Centre. (Received the Special Mention Prize in the media art category)

:: Press ::

:: Review ::

“This piece is a very well thought out conceptual piece and meditation on algorithmic censorship. It pulls in text from microbloggers in China whose writings are frequently censored and displays the characters of the messages in a way that is visible but unreadable, demonstrating the effects of mediated and automated authoritarianism in silencing voices online. The form of the piece reflects its themes and connects well with the Posthuman E-Lit theme of the conference. It will also work quite well in an exhibition context as the mix of Chinese and English characters continuously changing on the grid is visually striking and intriguing.” – ELO peer-reviewer

“Among them, Winnie Soon’s Unerasable Characters II grapples with the phenomenology of algorithmic, authoritarian censorship in real-time. The piece pulls text from the timelines of popular, frequently censored users on popular Chinese microblogging site Weibo and displays each post, character-by-character, only for the amount of time they would remain visible on the site prior to deletion. The posts’ grid-like array resembles a night sky, studded with stars one moment only for these to flash into non-existence inside of a wide, black void the next — a visual that powerfully reinforces the work’s theme for its viewers regardless of their linguistic background. This piece was given a physical installation at the University of Bergen’s KMD Joy Forum, accessible to staff, faculty, and students.” – Carlota Salvador Megias, University of Bergen

“The immediate impression is the scene from the film Matrix. The complete silence of the artwork echoes perfectly with the brutality of the censorship. The artwork has an ending. In real life, I may wonder if there is such an ending or it would consist of an overwhelming cloud of propaganda text” – Bryan Chung, jury of ifva

“望住白牆上面投射住密密麻麻「被消失」嘅文字,不禁令小編反思審查制度喺不同嘅體制同科技平台上,為我哋帶嚟嘅影響。隨住時間流逝,被消失嘅聲音喺牆上越嚟越少,數碼威權主義下活生生嘅審查制度,係我哋嘅寫照抑或係殘酷嘅預告?” – 文青 from WannaPlay Limited

這作品各個方面都直截了當,我很容易想像在大屏幕播放很有效,作品的規模與簡單的視覺美學結合,與內容很配合。作品簡約又簡單,也可視之為精準度高,與內容配合. – 楊嘉輝 (jury of ifva)

:: Acknowledgements ::

Dr. King-wa FU, Weiboscope research project