If Disrupted

Қытай бөлмесі (Eng. Chinese room)

The ‘Chinese room’ is a thought experiment by the American philosopher John Searle that was designed to demonstrate the incompatibility of human consciousness and machine algorithms. Based on this experiment, Mariyam Medet uses the metaphor of the Chinese Room as a repressive machine for the production of a necropolitical data subject through a face recognition system with the function of race recognition, practices of oppression of the Uyghur language, informational terror and the infrastructure of the so-called Chinese ‘re-education camps’ that oppress the Uyghurs—the Turkic-Muslim people of East Turkestan. 11 million Uyghurs live in China and are subject to ongoing repression through technological and disciplinary practices.

Just as in the Chinese room thought experiment, where there is a division into syntactic operations and their semantic indefinability, evidence of torture and repression is hidden and encrypted. As a metaphor, Mariyam Medet creates a wallpaper pattern of Chinese propagandistic slogans blurred with binary code. Through the hieroglyphs, images from Google Maps of places where the re-education camps are located are visible. The system of re-education camps and repression against the Uyghurs is a branching network of digital, logistical and informational infrastructures, producing genocide of a particular ethnical group. This system is similar to the ‘filtration camps’ that the Russian authorities build for the forcibly displaced residents of Ukraine. Examining the complex nodes of repressive practices and colonial contexts, Mariyam Medet reflects on the possible networks of solidarity and resistance that are associated with organising an escape from China and publishing data on the Uyghur genocide.

Turning to the topic of language, which played a crucial role in John Searle’s experiment, the artist recalls the importance of poetry as one of the ways of algorithmizing language and disrupting prose speech to unite people in the struggle against oppression. Mariyam Medet gives an example of how poetry can be a tool of solidarity, referencing the Kazakh poet Mirjaqip Dulatuli’s poem Oyan! Qazaq (Eng. Wake up! Kazakh) from 1909. Lines from this poem are regularly heard during protests, strikes and street processions, connecting different waves of resistance.

Materials and evidence for video-essay were provided by Zarina Mukanova and Rune Steenberg.

Mariyam Medet is a Kazak born in independent Kazakstan transdisciplinary contemporary artist, fem- and queer-folk politics activist, steppe cyber-warrior, coder and researcher. Mariyam Medet operates at the intersection of decolonisation, feminism and political activism, practically experimenting with AR, video, 3D graphics, installation, web development, visual programming, cyber-physical systems, computer vision and neural networks.

In their artistic practice, Mariyam Medet finds themselves in the process of researching ironic and exaggerated political realities where the Internet, new algorithmic superstructures and (post-)totalitarian regimes swirl in a whirlpool of glocalization; where Soviet stiffness, digital revolution and the revival of national identity go together like a 3-in-1 product sold at the supermarket. Through their artworks and research, Mariyam Medet wishes to find a sustainable frequency of oscillation between these terminals.