By David Brody
Firewall Internet Café is a fascinating pop-up exhibition that allows visitors to simultaneously search images on Google and the Chinese search engine, Baidu. Americans will not be surprised to find that Baidu’s results are “filtered” but preconceived ideas of censorship, one discovers, are complicated by nuances of language and translation. “Mao,” for example, has come to mean pornography; “firewall” conjures mythological imagery; and “Ai Weiwei” results in images of Exercycles and sweethearts. (As for censorship, Google has withdrawn from the Chinese market, but Bing remains.) The Chinese-American artist Joyce Yu-Jean Lee, whose informative installation this is, has collaborated with technologist Dan Phiffer (mastermind of the “dark net” used onsite by Occupy), along with a worldwide conspiracy of proxy hosts to bring off this seemingly simple exercise. (Simple or not, it seems to have struck a nerve in China: a Chinese citizen studying here was forbidden to participate on a panel connected with the show.) Google users, theoretically unrestricted, would do well to get to know the Party-approved Baidu, now in full export mode with notable market penetration into Brazil, Indonesia, Egypt and India. Indeed, Lower East side gallery goers, whose acknowledgement of Chinatown is usually restricted to cheap food, can get a guided tour of a future cultural, economic, and political reckoning.