«Everybody is buying art…»
Co-Curators Christoph Weckerle and Simon Grand talk about how “curating” became the main focus of their Hong Kong Panel and elaborate the important role that “shopping” plays in it.
Shopping has become a crucial driver in the way art is viewed and sold nowadays. It is especially the creative industry, located in between economics and culture, that is affected by this shift towards a cultural hub. But what role does “shopping” play in Hong Kong? And how does it affect Hong Kong’s creative economies?
Why did you want to do a panel in Hong Kong?
CW: On the one hand it was a strategic move of ZHdK (Zurich University of the Arts). The board decided ZHdK should establish an art space in Hong Kong. On the other hand we considered Hong Kong as far away from our mindset to see it as a test space. Thirdly there is a shift from an economic towards a cultural hub, so it is a dynamic city.
Why did you take “shopping” as the center part of the Hong Kong panel?
CW: In Venice we discussed what we call the “ecosystem” of the creative industries. But we ended up discussing creative economies in a much broader sense. Finally, there was this idea of curating. In Hong Kong we zoomed in. It was about observing what people do within the creative economies, what processes and practices they follow. There was Art Basel Hong Kong. Everybody is buying art at that moment and we were convinced that Hong Kong is a city where “shopping” plays an important role with all these global brands giving orientation to Mainland Chinese people and to people from Hong Kong.
Venice vs. Hong Kong – Two Cities, Two Approaches
Are there any differences to the Venice panel?
SG: At the Venice Panel the idea was to develop a more economic and entrepreneurial perspective. There are at least two levels of discussion: a macro-discussion about the creative economies as a cluster of economical, cultural and scientific activities, and a micro-perspective where you zoom in on particular people, collectives or organizations. In Hong Kong we took that up and talked to individual actors who see themselves as entrepreneurs or curators and we identified “shopping” as a particular interesting activity, because it is a highly culturalized activity: the way we shop, the way shopping centers are build. And it is also an interesting topic in a scientific context.
CW: Venice had a different setting. It was a very international concept with the Architecture Biennale. The whole thing was a panel. Hong Kong was a one-day workshop and the panel was only one part of it. It was highly complex and very complicated to organize something that is a bit “out of the box.”
At the Venice Panel, an approach to analyzing the creative economy using “curatorial strategies” was presented for the first time. What is your definition of the term curating?
CW: Three words: Dealing with uncertainty. We realized that this system was so complex and complicated that we could not move within this system with standard management approaches. So there was a need for a new approach. We called it curating. It is something, which is outside of standard management approaches.
Something like creative management?
SG: I would not use the term management in this context. Curating is about working with things, stories, observations and artifacts. For the discussion in Hong Kong in March we suggested a simple model with four aspects of curating. One was called staging stories. It is about developing stories that connect different things and about creating digital spaces where those stories are told. Secondly, it is hard to make judgments under uncertainty. Curating is a lot about making judgments. We even identify curators as judgment devices, people or collectives that make judgments for others. Thirdly, we have to mobilize resources in order to gain the interest of people for festivals, workshops, panels or an exhibition. Fourthly, we are increasingly developing what is called alternative institutionalization. What are new ways of institutionalizing new topics and new things in existing institutions?
How did you integrate curating in the Hong Kong Panel?
SG: It was the main focus. We named the whole event Curating Hong Kong. We applied the concept of curating to Hong Kong as a city in a cultural context and in the panel we particularly focused on “shopping”.
Did the panelists in Hong Kong present their views with an international approach on global creative systems?
CW: No, they all presented their own interesting cases. It was more about asking them questions related to the topic of “shopping”. There was an important Chinese designer who talked about his own shop. He had a cultural mission and it was his decision not to build a museum but shops. “Shopping” for him is about taking something home, not about spending money.
How and why did you choose the panelists for the Hong Kong Panel?
SG: We interviewed all of them over the last three years, so we knew their particular perspective. The first two were Aric Chen, curator of design and architecture at M+ museum and cultural venue, and Douglas Young, founder of G.O.D. (Goods of Desire). We discussed the role of “shopping” as a cultural phenomenon. We talked about the museum shop in a large museum versus the shop being a museum. The second group was Euan Upston and Hammad Nasar. Euan Upston focused on the art context as he is managing the Central Police Station, a heritage building, shopping center and cultural center for contemporary art. Hammad Nasar is head of research at Asia Art Archive, an institution for documenting and researching art from Asia.
Creative Economy – A Question of Identity?
In Asia, is there a difference between the term “Kreativwirtschaft”, a rather static term, and creative economies, a rather dynamic term?
CW: I would say the question is without answer. At the level of terminologies, cultural industries in Mainland China would be art supported by the government. In Europe it is the opposite and many people would still say that art supported by the government is good or high quality and what is left to the market is mainstream and less good quality. In Hong Kong they do not have these borders; it is not about left or right, public or private, good or bad, singularity or mainstream. That is why we introduced the term force fields in our discussion. It is not helpful to say it is A or B and come to a conclusion. The term of force fields was quite important. We made a step forward.
When did that happen approximately?
CW: Well, we talk about a period of four years. Year one and two were about trying to understand as much about people as possible and failing many times. Year three and four were very productive. Then we started with the panels.
SG: I think from the beginning of our cooperation it was clear that the established frameworks and models seemed to be limited. Participants themselves would question any concept that was putting boundaries around the phenomenon of creativity. There is an inherent dynamic in the creative industries. How can we develop simple models and frameworks that allow us to have those discussions? An interesting step was the November Panel (test-panel), a discussion among people from Hong Kong moderated by someone from Hong Kong. We were just observing, listening and providing some kind of interrelation to this discussion. The panel in March completed these conversations.
The question of identity is often discussed in Asia. Creative industries are extremely important to develop a sense of identity. Did you feel that in Hong Kong?
CW: We have learned that Hong Kong was a banking city. But the banking sector and logistics will move to other places in Mainland China. They are investing in art and culture. So we made the claim that it is a shifting city from an economic to a cultural hub. Artists from Hong Kong agreed. Creative economies will be crucial for the definition of this city and for its new identity.
Is it an international shift or a national one in different directions?
SG: In Hong Kong I see shifts on different levels. They use the idea that M+ will become MOMA and Centre Pompidou in Asia, so in that sense they position themselves on a global scale. They also want to be different from all the other institutions. The borderline between different creative disciplines is blurry in this context. So, moving from traditional Chinese art practices to new media or design, sometimes is a fluent transition. Hong Kong is a very interesting place that is in a transitional phase from a colony to an integral part of China. What is happening on the political landscape is a part of this cultural transition.
Review and Outlook
What were the essential findings in the HK Panel this year?
CW: The whole workshop was kind of a test constellation. We went out of this panel with the idea that we were not completely wrong. There is something that we should develop further, we should still observe from more different perspectives. We heard people say that they were interested in these “judgment dimensions”: How do you take a decision when it is uncertain and when it is not very clear what is good or bad?
SG: My feeling is that over time some of those models will become more stable. Maybe they will turn into a toolbox for discussions around creative economies. But the most important insight of such a panel is generating productive new questions.
CW: There are also many side effects. For example ELIA (European League of Institutes of the Arts) has published a strategy paper on creative industries where you will find our model, so there is an impact. But we also have to force ourselves to go into standard formats, to write scientific papers or to start a research project that is third party founded.
Will there be another panel in the future? If yes, where?
CW: We are convinced that it should take place in Switzerland because we are the main drivers. We also have some very clear ideas of what the third panel’s topic should be. We want to zoom in on creative economies, curating and the judging dimension. So yes, it could be either Zurich or London in May next year, but that is still unsure. But we will organize the third panel anyway. [laughs]
How are you going to plan and organize the next panel?
SG: We look out for colleagues that are interested in joining in. It is in constant flux in a sense that we are open for many different perspectives and directions. And it is curated or structured in a sense that we have certain questions we are following and certain models we are testing.
So it is more like a playground for you?
CW: [laughter] I would never say it like this, but yes, it kind of is.
Will you continue the project series after the next panel?
SG: I think we will continue as long as we are generating new, interesting questions, finding interesting places and people to continue. And if at some point we have only answers … well then we are going to stop. [laughs]
ZURICH – VENICE – HONG KONG
In July 2014, Christoph Weckerle, Simon Grand and Gerd Folkers organized a panel discussion in the context of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, focusing on trying to understand the ecosystem of creative economy and discussing the fundamentals of global creative systems.
In cooperation with Connecting Spaces Hong Kong – Zurich, an exploratory platform for collaborative projects between Zurich University of the Arts and various institutions in Hong Kong, they organized a public workshop in Hong Kong in March 2015 named “Alternative Futures: Curating Hong Kong”.
The Hong Kong panel “Shopping Art / Consuming Culture – Trend Lab Hong Kong” focused on one specific aspect of curating: “Shopping”.