The Aesthetics of Zipai: From Wechat Selfies to Self-Representation in Contemporary Chinese Art and Photography
Zipai, literally ‘self-shot’, is the Chinese word for ‘selfie’, and it indicates both the action and the product of taking a picture of oneself. This paper presents an account of the “ways of working” through which the authors – a media anthropologist and a performance artist – negotiated a collaborative approach to zipai. The essay begins with a discussion of contemporary practices of self-representation on Chinese digital media, arguing that the zipai uploaded by Chinese users on online platforms can be understood as locational and relational self-portraits, a media-specific genre of vernacular photography. It then proceeds to consider the ethical implications of appropriating vernacular photography for artistic and ethnographic representation, proposing to adapt the practice of filtering as an ethical intervention. After an overview of contemporary works by Chinese artists and photographers engaging with the aesthetics of zipai, the essay concludes with a reflection on the possibilities of collaboration between art practice and media anthropology.