Ignite! Hong Kong Art Portfolio Collection — A New Online Platform Developed by Oi!
Lesley Lau, Hong Kong , , , , Ivy Lin, Hong Kong
As a dynamic cultural organisation, the museum always has to keep pace with the times and even think ahead of them. In a fast-growing city like Hong Kong, public art museums must constantly evolve and develop in order to meet the needs of the society and anticipate the changes it undergoes. This paper introduces Oi!, the very latest contemporary art space in Hong Kong, which was established in May 2013, and examines its demonstration of a new model of public art organisation that can cater to the city’s requirements. Unlike museums that are custodians of cultural legacies, Oi! positions itself as an incubator for young artistic talent, a facilitator of art creation and a project venue for engaging the community. Rather than objects of historical or artistic significance, Oi! "collects" creative talent and the most up-to-date information in order to help build and enhance Hong Kong’s cultural software. This paper discusses how Oi! is using the Internet to connect with local artists by exploring its new online platform, "Ignite! Hong Kong Art Portfolio Collection". Instead of serving as an authoritative content provider like traditional museums, Oi! opens up its resources to diverse creative communities and invites them to co-curate programmes in this brand new art space with the help of the Web.
Keywords: public art organisation, art space, co-curate, online platform, incubator, facilitator
Over the past couple of centuries, the relationship between museums and the public has undergone radical changes. As museum scholar Stephen Weil has stated:
At its birth — some two hundred years ago in Europe; … the position of the museum vis-a-vis the public was unambiguously a superior one. The museum was established to raise the level of public understanding, it was to elevate the spirits of its visitors, it was to refine and uplift the common taste. (Weil, 1997)
Instead of simply educating the public, today’s museums aim to serve it, a goal that is evident in the mission statements of many museums. To achieve this mission, signs of a progressive opening-up have appeared in museum exhibitions in response to the needs and interests of visitors. The museum has been transformed from an elitist, authoritative and object-focused institution to an open, inclusive and visitor-centred experience.
In a fast-growing city like Hong Kong, public art museums must constantly evolve and develop in order to meet the needs of the society and anticipate the changes it undergoes. This paper introduces Oi!, the very latest public-funded art space in Hong Kong, which was established in May 2013, and explores how it demonstrates a new model of art space that can cater to the city’s requirements.
One of the major characteristics that distinguishes Oi! from traditional museums is that, instead of providing information and content to the visitors, Oi! offers a platform and invites people to engage as active participants and contributors to the contents of its exhibitions and programmes. The traditional top-down approach is changed to a collaborative and co-creative process. By welcoming audiences as partners in the joint curating of exhibitions and activities, Oi! empowers people as active contributors, creators and makers of meaning and thus as participants in consolidating the position of Oi! as a relevant and meaningful art organisation.
Various forms of digital models, such as websites and social media, are adopted by Oi! to enhance public engagement. This paper will focus on a brand new online platform as a case study: “Ignite! Hong Kong Art Portfolio Collection” (http://www.igniteart.hk) which has been tailor-made for Oi! to establish connections with local artists and creative practitioners. The paper explores how Oi! launched this pilot scheme and the challenges it faced. It proceeds to look into how Ignite! could be developed to stimulate public engagement and enhance exchanges between the local creative practitioners.
Located at 12 Oil Street in North Point, Hong Kong, Oi! has been converted from the former clubhouse of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, which was established in 1908. Built in the Arts and Crafts style, the premises once stood on the waterfront and are the only structures remaining from the original coastline at North Point in the 1930s before land reclamation work in the area. The club relocated to Kellett Island in Causeway Bay in 1938, finally leaving North Point in 1946 after the Second World War. The premises subsequently housed government staff quarters until 1998, with the Antiquities and Monuments Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department then taking over the site to store historical artefacts until 2007. The complex of red brick structures was listed as a Grade 2 historic building in 1995.
Oi! is located next to the site of the now demolished Government Supplies Department building. After the department was relocated in 1998, the vacant building attracted local artists and art groups as short-term tenants, who set up studios there and used the building as a venue for art events. Thus was born the Oil Street Artist Village, Hong Kong’s first art community to have evolved organically. The premises of Oi! therefore bear witness to an important chapter in local art history, and this subtext provides an insight into the current of traditions in which the new art space has been founded as it ceaselessly integrates past and present to form unique perspectives and views in an open and innovative process.
Established in 2013, Oi! is a new project that reflects how a publicly funded art space can better serve the communities of which it is a part. Before defining the position of Oi!, it is crucial to understand the background to its establishment and its relationship with other public museums in Hong Kong.
Relationship between Oi! and other public museums in Hong Kong
Oi! was initiated and is managed by the Heritage and Museums Division of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) under the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region. The LCSD is the government department that manages Hong Kong’s public cultural and leisure venues. In addition to Oi!, the Heritage and Museums Division runs 14 museums, one heritage centre, one film archive and one visual arts centre, each with a unique focus. It is the vision of the LCSD to offer inspiring experiences in art, history and science that can be enjoyed by all.
Of the 14 museums managed by the LCSD, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, originally founded in 1962 as the Hong Kong Museum and Art Gallery, and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, established in 2000, are primarily responsible for organising visual art exhibitions and programmes. The LCSD established the Art Promotion Office (APO) in 2001 to complement the work of the museums. Thinking beyond the walls of museums, the APO takes a proactive approach to promoting visual art in Hong Kong. Instead of simply trying to attract the public to the museums, the APO brings art out into people’s daily life by encouraging art intervening public spaces and organising exhibitions and programmes in a variety of outreach venues, such as parks, hospitals, shopping malls and bookstores. The APO also facilitates art creation by providing studio and exhibition facilities to visual artists at the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre (HKVAC), which is under its management.
Community art is another major focus of the APO. In this context, “community” is not simply understood as groups of people connected by geography. As sociologist Victor Azarya suggests, communities are groups defined by shared characteristics (American Association of Museums, 2002). The APO therefore extends its reach to various community groups, including youths, elderly people, the disabled and ethnic minorities, by customising art programmes to cater for their needs and interests.
In 2010, ten years after the establishment of the APO, the LCSD took the initiative to establish another new art space under the Heritage and Museums Division in order to reinforce its efforts in local art promotion. The launch of Oi! in May 2013 represents the LCSD’s vision to move public museums forward in anticipation of new social dynamics and developments in Hong Kong. Oi!, different from a traditional white-cube art space, aims to pioneer breakthroughs in the ways it works with local art and, more importantly, with the public. Instead of replicating successful models from Hong Kong or overseas, Oi! sets out to build a new model based on the invaluable experience gained by the APO and HKVAC.
Mission of Oi!
It has long been the LCSD’s vision to build audiences for local museums and art organisations. Keen competition for a share in people’s leisure time is driving contemporary museums to focus more on the public. By inviting people to engage as active participants, not just as passive viewers, Oi! strives to become relevant, even central, to people’s lives, something which will help build audience for local art programmes in the long run. To broaden our audiences, Oi! targets young people as well as people who may not be frequent museum-goers.
Another reason for establishing Oi! is to provide a platform for local young art practitioners to realise their creative ideas and enhance their professional practice. In Hong Kong, with its dense population and scarce space, a free and open art venue is crucial for young creative practitioners – the budding artists, designers and curators – to develop and present their works to the public.
In addition to fulfilling local needs, the establishment of Oi! also reflects global trends in the museum world. The emergence of a new museology in the late 20th century accounts for the opening up of the museum. As Jennifer Barrett asserts, “Central to the reconfiguration of the museum, was Peter Vergo’s (1989) invention of ‘new museology.'” (Barrett, 2001) This reinvention of the discipline promotes strategies to remedy the exclusivity and centralised authority of the museum. It attempts to democratise the museum by advocating multiple ways of interpreting the world and by emphasising the importance of consultation with communities. The new museology, as Lisa Chandler (2009) observes, “has played an important role in deconstructing many of the long-held assumptions underlying curatorship and museum practices by interrogating the museum’s purpose, functions, power structures and relationships with audiences.”
Oi! embraces the different viewpoints of various communities and places the emphasis on public engagement. Before the venue was launched, a number of stakeholder meetings were organised and over 100 people from different communities were invited to voice their opinions on the new art space. Drawing in community members as early as the development stage has enabled Oi! to build stronger bonds with the people who contributed ideas and to strengthen the collaboration between Oi! and the communities.
Position of Oi!
At Oi!, we have a passionate belief in the transformative power of art. Through the empowering experience of co-creation, people catch the spark of creativity, which then transforms their everyday lives and the lives of those around them. Unlike museums that are custodians of cultural legacies, Oi! positions itself as an incubator for young artistic talent, a facilitator of art creation and a project venue for community engagement.
Instead of giving it a conventional name, such as “Oil Street Art Space” or “Oil Street Exhibition and Activity Centre”, the management decided to put an extraordinary stamp on this new venue: “Oi!” is an exciting call to action and an immediate invitation to people to co-create. It projects a young and energetic image and describes the participatory and playful atmosphere of the space. The exclamation mark, looking like a small letter “L”, reconnects the name to the word “Oil” and thus hits at the name of the street where the venue is located. What’s more, in Cantonese, the Chinese title of Oi! is a homonym of its address, 12 Oil Street, while “12” is a homonym for “realisation”, expressing LCSD’s hope that artistic vibrancy will become a reality at the venue. As oil is a kind of fuel, it is hoped that Oi! will develop into an art space that fuels creativity, imaginative ideas and open dialogue, and invites diverse communities to experiment freely with contemporary art and culture.
Idea of co-curation
In addition to the relationship with the community, Oi! distinguishes itself from the conventional museum in its practice of curation. As Lisa Chandler (2009) maintains, traditionally, most art museums “have positioned themselves as pre-eminent cultural institutions of the dominant culture, whose curatorial and collecting decisions, inclusions, exclusions and interpretations of objects on display, have constructed authoritative versions of art history and various practitioners’ places within it.” Established at a time when a major shift is taking place at museums around the world to re-examine the concept of authority, Oi! adopts a more open and inclusive curatorial practice. Being more than a gallery for the display of art, Oi! is also positioning itself as a laboratory and platform for dialogue and the exchange of ideas. Young local curators, creative talents and community groups will be invited to co-curate exhibitions and programmes at the art space. Oi! believes collaboration can prompt an interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge and foster mutual recognition, empowerment and sustainability among curators, artists and audiences.
12 Oil Street: Casting
Oi! launched its first programme in 2012 even as it was preparing to open. The community project “12 Oil Street: Casting” saw 12 groups of people from different communities paired with 12 artists to stage their own photographic versions of the 12 Oil Street story. The participating communities included elderly people, hearing-impaired students, North Point residents, two groups of youngsters, architecture students, young photographers, creative industry practitioners, smartphone users, South Asian families and photographers who used to work at the former Oil Street Artist Village.
The project invited people from different backgrounds to create a personal interpretation of 12 Oil Street before the historic building was renovated, in which they expressed how they feel about Oi!. Selected photographic works were then put on display at Art HK 2012, a large-scale international art fair in Hong Kong, as a way of introducing Oi! to art practitioners. Representatives from participating communities attended the art fair and presented their own works to visitors. Although most participants were amateur artists who might not be able to create works of art that would be regarded as “great” in the art market, in this project, each participant held a unique power because s/he gave voice to something vital, yet easy and immediate to which viewers could gain emotional access.
To allow more people to view their photographic works, a website was built on which all the final works as well as behind-the-scene photos and videos of interviews with the participants were posted online. The project not only provided a valuable opportunity for members of different communities to express their anticipation and expectation concerning Oi! before its launch, but also outlined a framework for public discussion about this new establishment.
Oi! adopts strategic approaches to foster the development of cultural software in Hong Kong and build audience for cultural activities. Three categories of new initiatives have been launched to allow community members and participants to join in, contribute, create, share and connect with each other:
(a) Y! Projects (Youth Projects) are a stage where the spotlight is turned on young artistic and creative talent. They provide opportunities for up-and-coming artists to showcase their artistic creation, raise their profiles and exchange ideas through exhibitions, forums and an online platform.
Y! Projects include programmes catering for young art curators, such as “Sparkle! Art for the Future Exhibition Series,” which invites emerging curators to organise exhibitions at Oi! featuring works by local artists.
(b) E! Projects (Empowerment Projects) provide a platform for participants to express their views and exchange ideas in a variety of engagement programmes where new insights can be sparked.
E! Projects, which advocate the power of art, include XCHANGE, a six-month community art project embracing the idea of give-and-take. Initiated by Hong Kong designers Eddy Yu and Hung Lam, XCHANGE focuses on local issues and includes a variety of programmes. It seeks to redefine the public’s perception of “perfection” and “imperfection” through different forms of exchange behaviour. One of these is “I’MPERFECT BARTER”, which involves a new concept of exchange that goes beyond monetary transactions and can take any form – from second-hand goods, through practical skills and knowledge, to the sharing of experience. While “I’MPERFECT BARTER” is running, any participants who bring food supplies bought from local grocery stores to Oi! will receive a pot of plant in return, and all the food that is collected will be donated to people in need.
(c) A! Projects (Art in Life Projects) infuse art into everyday life so that it becomes an integral part of communities as they evolve and grow. Art is not only embraced, it becomes an attitude to life.
A! Projects include “Living Art Projects”, which invites artists and local residents to create environmental displays that merge art with the city’s urban environment and thus make art more accessible to the general public. Oi! invited the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation and the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association to collaborate alongside artists, designers, local residents, women and students to create works of art involving the fence and side door of Oi!. Inspired by the theme of “green art”, the participants used recycled materials to add value and significance to previously discarded objects. These projects not only enrich the surroundings, but also inject the public’s creativity into Oi!.
Since its soft launch in May 2013, Oi! has attracted over 37,000 visitors in three and a half months and has received enthusiastic comments from local art communities and the general public, with the feedback on the new approaches taken by Oi! overwhelmingly positive to date.
Ignite! Hong Kong Art Portfolio Collection
Instead of objects of historical or artistic significance, Oi! seeks to “collect” creative talent and the most up-to-date information that will help build and enhance Hong Kong’s cultural software. One of the major challenges for Oi!, and for other museums and art organisations, is how to establish close bonds with talented artists in Hong Kong. As Oi! advocates collaboration and the exchange of knowledge and experience, it is crucial for Oi! to reinforce its connection with potential collaborators and enhance the accessibility of information.
Before Oi! was established, a working group was set up consisting of four LCSD Expert Advisers, two local art experts and the Curator of the Art Promotion Office, and it became clear from several meetings of the group that there was a need to build an online platform to facilitate the flow of information and collaboration between local artists and Oi!.
The advice of the working group in this context focused on the new pathways that digital media opened up for Oi! to connect with diverse creative communities. Based on the reach of the web in Hong Kong, Oi! has built a new online platform called “Ignite! Hong Kong Art Portfolio Collection” (http://www.igniteart.hk) to link up with talented local creators. With its title inspired by Oi!’s slogan, “Igniting Art, Fuelling Creativity,” this platform has been created for and is fuelled by local artists and creative practitioners. It is a free online platform designed to encourage collaboration, interaction and the exchange of ideas between artists and curators.
A study of existing artist archives in Hong Kong
Although similar online artist platforms have been developed by overseas museums, their systems may not fit the context of Oi! and Hong Kong in various aspects such as their scopes, languages, requirements and applications. A thorough study was conducted to identify online resources in Hong Kong that feature the portfolios of Hong Kong artists, and it revealed that, by the time Ignite! was initiated, two local websites had been functioning as online archives for local visual artists: “Hong Kong Art Archive” (http://www.fa.hku.hk/hkaa), hosted by the Fine Arts Department of The University of Hong Kong and established in 2000, which has records of 176 local artists, including biographies, images of works of art and articles, and “Hong Kong Art Web” (http://www.hongkongartweb.com), started by a private gallery in 2005, which features information on works of art by 27 local visual artists. A similar website is the “Hong Kong Visual Arts Archive” (http://hkvaa.lib.cuhk.edu.hk), an online searchable database developed by the University Library System of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, which in its beta version does not feature artists’ portfolios, but instead provides exhibition citation records from the Hong Kong Visual Arts Yearbook (1999-2005).
Not including these online platforms, physical archives provide the major channel for research into art information in Hong Kong. Asia Art Archive (AAA) is a non-profit centre in Hong Kong documenting the contemporary history of visual art in Asia. Information on Asian artists and related materials are available at the centre’s library in Sheung Wan, while some of the information is searchable online at the AAA’s website (http://www.aaa.org.hk). Two public museums in Hong Kong have also built their own archives of Hong Kong art. The Hong Kong Museum of Art provides an online Collection Databank for the public to search its collection of images and information; it also runs a Museum Resource Centre that researchers can visit to examine its wide selection of art books, periodicals and artist archives. The public is welcome to make a reservation to visit the centre, but a lending service is not available. The Hong Kong Heritage Museum also runs its own Hong Kong Art Archive, which the public can access after booking a time in advance.
Characteristics of Ignite!
Ignite! is unique. The museums’ resource centres provide a comprehensive archive of local artists, but the information is disparate and not readily accessible online. The similar resources dealing with Hong Kong artists that are available online tend to be managed by administrators who make their own selection of artists, images and information. Ignite! is the only platform that openly welcomes all Hong Kong artists to create their own online portfolios. It allows the users themselves to decide what aspects of their work they want to present as part of their professional portfolios.
In the process of setting up this new online platform, a number of similar websites run by overseas museums or art organisations, such as Saatchi Online and Fine Art America, were examined and taken as reference. Considering the need to create a free and open online platform dedicated to Hong Kong artists, Oi! launched Ignite! in 2013 initially as a pilot scheme. To cater to the needs of different local artists, the platform’s interface is available in three languages: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and English.
Ignite! is an open invitation to all Hong Kong artists, irrespective of the media they work in, to upload their portfolios to the platform independently, together with their choice of profile, images of their work, articles and other information. Creating an account at Ignite! is easy and totally free. The system leads the user through the steps to upload a profile picture, fill in information and upload images. Ignite! is not limited to visual artists. Designers, architects, sound artists and all other creative talents are welcome to share their creativity with Oi!, which embraces all conventional and evolving forms of arts.
Through this free channel, local artists can develop a collection of images of their works with statements and website links and thus present a clear picture of their individual identity and style. Ignite! acts as a bridge connecting local artists with curators who are searching for collaborating artists with whom they can co-create programmes at Oi!. With its user-friendly interface, Ignite! is also easy for viewers to visit and surf. The artists and their works on Ignite! can be searched by genre, artist’s name or keyword. Visitors can also browse the artist portfolios randomly, in alphabetical order or in the chronological order of the dates on which the artists signed up.
Over 300 artists joined Ignite! in the two and a half months from 15 May to 31 July 2013. It has attracted artists working in a wide spectrum of media, including painting, sculpture, calligraphy, print-making, new media, sound art, design, photography, architecture, performance art and conceptual art. More than 1,300 images of works with related information have been uploaded by the artists onto their online portfolios. During the first phase of the scheme, the information collected can only be accessed by the curators, guest curators and working group members of Oi!, but it is hoped that more artists will be recruited in the second phase of Ignite! and that the information on them will be made accessible to the public.
Challenges and further developments
One of the drawbacks for this kind of online platform is that people who are not familiar with the use of computers may not be able to join it. In order to facilitate all users, a telephone hotline service was provided during the first phase of Ignite! where technicians answered questions and guided the users on how to upload images and information to the website. To enhance the service in the future, a help desk may set up at Oi! with equipment and a duty technician to help users join Ignite! and get familiar with the navigation of the website.
Oi! sees Ignite! as a starting point for extending its reach from physical visitors and participants to a wider online community. Based on the experience and feedback gained from the first phase of the platform, Oi! may expand its scope to integrate new features that will enhance its functions and capabilities.
The rapid rise of the Web 2.0 and mobile devices has encouraged people to generate, share, and create their own content on the Internet. In the beginning, the Internet was like traditional museums, a home to web sites that only provided content to viewers. Today, “Web 2.0 removes the authority from the content provider and places it in the hands of the user” (Simon, 2006). YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs are all products of Web 2.0; these are sites where users are active participants creating content and commenting on other people’s works. As the public now expect online engagement and more opportunities to interact and co-create, Ignite! will aim to develop new functions that allow users to leave comments and interact with each other. A forum may also be developed on Ignite! where users can report art news and opportunities for artists, such as information on art competitions and grants. The frequent flow of information on the website will sustain the traffic and thus the vitality of Ignite!.
In their early days, museums occupied an elevated position from which they aimed to enlighten visitors. Today, museums see the public as contributors and partners in a far more equitable relationship. The establishment of Oi! by the Heritage and Museums Division of the LCSD reflects the government’s awareness of people’s changing expectations of public art organisations.
Oi! strives to provide dynamic platforms through which different communities can contribute ideas and contents to its exhibitions and programmes. As the latest contemporary art space in Hong Kong, Oi! is humble yet bold. It dares to experiment with new ideas, while knowing it does not yet have all the answers. It shares its resources with the public and at the same time is enriched and strengthened by their contributions. With the development of its new online platform, Ignite!, Oi! is more than a physical art space – it is an attitude, a belief, an adventure where the possibilities and power of art can be explored. The open nature of Ignite! is in line with the position of Oi! as a welcoming art space, one that encourages participation, accepts new ideas and shares knowledge and resources with the public. As Oi! focuses on local art, Ignite! targets Hong Kong artists rather than seeking a regional or global role.
With this new online platform, Oi! is looking to draw in diverse participants, to act as a catalyst for new partnerships and to turn more exciting creative ideas into reality. By working together, Oi! and the different communities can create an experience for each other that is greater than anything they could achieve separately.
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L. Lau, . , . , . and I. Lin, Ignite! Hong Kong Art Portfolio Collection — A New Online Platform Developed by Oi!. In , N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published September 30, 2013. Consulted .