Encoded, Decoded

Encoded Language and Censorship in Pandemic

Doris Duanmu
MIT SMArchS Urbanism 2023
1 This is an overview of the exhibition space.

This project is an uncanny digital exhibition/game to showcase a list of newly invented Covid terms, which are widely used on social media during the pandemic in China. The vast landscape mimics the digital public realm - the Internet. At the same, each monumentally erected structure built up from clustered letters represents the emergence of terminologies, with two sides that are either encoded (as shown in media) or decoded (an alternative reading and explanation of the term).

Some terms are bureaucratic style, mainly used by government-owned media for communicating Covid strategy. Perplexing in word structure and denotation, they are usually hyper-terminologized, weaponized, romanticized in rhetoric, and complicated to understand at first sight. Some terms are slang or dialectal, used mostly among social media users to elude social media censorship via keyword screening (or as a result of self-censorship) and joke about their experience of Covid hardship. They are heavily encoded in terms of emojis, acronyms, homonyms, and nicknames.Once entering the space, players are welcome to wander around freely to capture each term's encoded and decoded sides. It requires effort to find the accurate angle to interpret the terms correctly.

Project video
2 This is a view showing the monumentalized emojis (horse and sheep).
3 This is a zoom-in view of voxelized text geometry.