Unerasable Characters II


04/02/2022 bis 30/04/2022


Freitag, 4. Februar 2022 - 14:00

Hong Kong-born, Denmark-based artist and researcher Winnie Soon (HKG) explores the policy of time-restriction and/or deletion of critical statements and texts on social media platforms in China, such as Weibo, in her multi-award-winning work Unerasable Characters II.

As part of the unerasable series, the artwork Unerasable Characters II 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 of censorship (and its wider consequences) as it is implemented in technological platforms and infrastructure.


The series collects unheard voices in the form of censored/erased (permission denied) data, which is based on one of the biggest social media platforms in China – Weibo via the system called “Weiboscope“, a data collection and visualization project developed by Dr. Fu King-wa from The University of Hong Kong, 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 (Fu, Chan and Chau 2013).


The award winning piece Unerasable Characters II collects erased data, including emojis, symbols, English and Chinese textual characters. Consisting of a custom-designed software (written in Python and p5.js) that scrapes the erased “tweets” from Weiboscope on a daily basis, the project draws upon the active archives and presents them in a grid format in the form of an installation. Each tweet is deconstructed into a character-by-character display and animation that occupies a grid unit repeatedly for a limited period. In other words, each grid unit contains a tweet, but it only shows one character at a time within the grid unit. The duration of each ‘tweet’ is computed from the actual visible time on Weibo, and the visual representation of the artwork transforms from a busy canvas with full of flashing characters to an empty one. The program then fetches and generates a new set of archives, and the cycle will repeat endlessly.


The work shifts our attention from what has been erased to what has been or can be generated through computational processes in a wider context, thereby allowing space for generating reflection on the implications of censorship in Hong Kong or even other Western technological platforms, such as Apple who has been accused for censoring apps regarding Hong Kong protest movement (Hui 2019; appleinsider 2020). The artwork poses the question: How do systematic processes and political infrastructure generate a normalized culture of censorship, or even self-censorship?