“Liberating Technologies”: Digital Cultures of Protest in China

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Digital Conversations Research Seminar: Arts and Cultural Management Program

"Liberating Technologies": Digital Cultures of Protest in China

Dr Rachel Marsden (University of Melbourne)
Justine Poplin (Victoria University)
Curated by Dr Natalia Grincheva

Date: October 18, 2017
Time: 12.30pm - 1.30pm

Venue: Arts West, Digital Studio (Level 2), the University of Melbourne

How has the digital era changed the power dynamics between governments and publics? What happens beyond the Great Firewall of China? This seminar draws examples from the Occupy Movements and uprising Digital Memes sub culture to explore how cultures of protest in China manifest through “liberating technologies” of digital media.

Poplin's presentation, Mapping the Meme in China: Online and Offline Signification, explores symbolism created in Mainland China in 2009 in digital memes virally propagated through art galleries, museums and social media. Poplin maps the digital symbolism of memes to test the claim that over time some symbols lose potency, while others remain and reflect a shift in ideology. Employing digital ethnography, her research interprets the visual cultural flows of political protests to offer a Western perspective on understanding Chinese stereotypes in visual culture.

Marsden's presentation, Local Action to Global "Agitprop": Digital Representations of Chinese Occupy Movements, examines the representation of social art practices created in response to the changing geopolitical borders of Hong Kong and Mainland China. Marsden discusses how the "art of protest," as a contemporary "agitprop" culture, challenges historical preconceptions by appropriating the Occupy Movements of Tiananmen Square Protest (1989) Beijing, and Occupy Central, Umbrella Revolution (2014), Hong Kong. She explores how work of Chinese artists, represented digitally and virally shared online, become instigators of local action to global "agitprop" culture.


Justine Poplin is an artist and researcher in Creative Arts at the College of Arts & Education, Victoria University. Since early 90s she has exhibited and curated a number of shows both in Australia and in China, including 2006 Habitat - Pickled Arts Centre in Beijing and 2000 Cropped - Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne. She has collaborated with artists across Asia-Pacific and has been awarded numerous grants for international residencies, for example 2005 Red Gate Gallery 'Shangrila' in Beijing, China. Her research focuses on visual culture and new symbolism in 21st century China.

Dr Rachel Marsden is a curator, researcher, arts writer and Lecturer in Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne. She is a Founder and Curator of The Temporary, and Governing Board Member for China Residencies (New York, USA) and NPE Art Residency (Singapore). Previously, she was Coordinator for Centre for Chinese Visual Arts (CCVA) (Birmingham City University, UK) and Research Curator for Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) (Manchester, UK). Current research focuses on networked curatorial practices and sustainable cultural economies in China and the Asia-Pacific region.