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China's mood in real-time

Economic data is often used to gauge the collective attitude of a nation. In China, a new piece of public art shows the country's mood by sifting through millions of emoticons.
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Written by Kirsten Korosec on

Economic data, like the consumer price index and similar indices, have become go-to sources for gauging the attitude of a nation. In China, millions of emoticons are providing a real-time view of its citizens' collective mood.

Beijing-based artist Jennifer Wen Ma and lighting designer Zheng Jianwei collaborated on a project to turn the Beijing National Aquatics Center--otherwise known as the WaterCube--into a interactive piece of art that provides a real-time view of the country's mood.

The public art commission, called Nature and Man in Rhapsody of Light at the Water Cube, combines big data with ancient Chinese teachings from the I Ching and then displays the results in an LED light display.

How It Works

A software application sifts through millions of emoticons, like smiley faces, that appear in updates posted to Weibo and then assigns them to one of 70 emotional categories. The emotional categories affect the shade and movement of the light in the display. Meanwhile, hexagram symbols from the I Ching determine the color.

The display, which opened in late June, changes daily in accordance with the moods of millions of Chinese citizens who use social media.

The interactive lighting display is unique in a country where public art and landmark buildings aim to reflect the state's power and mission. The display also stands out because it allows for both negative and positive feelings to be displayed, a departure for a government that likes to control its image.

The public art does have its limitations. Weibo is regularly censored, meaning many negative emoticons will likely be excluded, which could dilute the collective mood of the country on any particular day.

Photo: Art installation Nature and Man in Rhapsody of Light at the Water Cube

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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