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Art Radar speaks with Para/Site curator, director Fominaya on November auction event

Posted by artradar on October 19, 2010


ART AUCTION FUNDRAISER HONG KONG CURATOR INTERVIEW

Para/Site Art Space, a non-profit organisation located in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, will hold its annual Para/Site Fundraising Auction in early November this year. It will take place in the Kee Club, who also support the event, and is one of the most important fund-generators for the space. Para/Site is devoted to the exhibition of local and international contemporary art. It is also a space where seminars, talks and workshops take place regularly.

We had the opportunity to talk with the Para/Site Director and Curator Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya who has been working for the space for one-and-a-half-years, half of his contracted commitment. We wanted to know more about him, Para/Site Art Space and what special surprises the upcoming auction will have for attendees.

Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, director and curator of Hong Kong's non-profit Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, director and curator of Hong Kong's non-profit Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Fominaya and Para/Site: small scale projects with international interaction

How long has Para/Site Art Space been running for?

Para/Site was founded in 1996. It was one of the first organisations of its kind to be created in Hong Kong. In 1997, other organisations like 1Artspace were created. Para/Site started as an artists’ collective, providing a space for member artists to exhibit. Very soon it became a space for other artists coming from abroad to show their work. Para/Site started an international programme and this has continued until now. Para/Site, in a way, was a pioneer in inviting curators to work full time. I am the second curator who has joined the space. (Editor’s note: Before Fominaya, Para/Site employed Tobias Berger, a German curator who worked for the space for three years from 2006 to 2008.)

Why did you decide to join Para/Site Art Space?

Several reasons made me want to join this space: I wanted to distance myself somewhat from the European gallery/art space model. I wanted also to be able to curate all major parts of a project. In Europe, the scale of the projects I was working on was very different. I was used to working on big projects within a large team. I wanted to experiment with small scale projects, as they give me a much closer relationship with the artist. But, we also have a minor budget here! It is very challenging (smiles). The logic of culture working in a large scale organisation or in a small one is very different. I have to say that it was very shocking for me at first! I had to adapt to a different scale of project and to a different culture.

What has changed since you first joined Para/Site Art Space?

We have worked harder to develop our facilities for our Hong Kong artists and also to increase our public programme by developing some workshops…. [We are] promoting local art abroad and making dialogue between the art and artists possible in and outside Hong Kong. An example of a workshop has been the participation of the director of education at MoMA, Philip Yenawine, who talked about museums and education. [Past] workshops weren’t that much focused on artists but more on art administrators, curators, etc..

ZHANG-Dali, 'AK-47 (V.7)', 2010, acrylic on canvas, 102 x 82 cm, unique edition. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Zhang Dali, 'AK-47 (V.7)', 2010, acrylic on canvas, 102 x 82 cm, unique edition. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

What have you been doing before you joined Para/Site Art Space?

Before coming to Para/Site I worked in a very different type of environment. I was working as a curator in a contemporary and modern art museum in Spain for six years. It was a different type of organisation; it was much larger and we covered all the twentieth century. At Para/Site Art Space … it’s a totally different type of environment, being a micro non-profit organisation with only four people working on our projects. Most of those projects are commissioned works that the artists develop for us. We have a very active international programme, which is very different from [the programme we had in] my previous job. That’s one of the challenges.

How is it funded?

The money raised in the auction covers almost half of our annual budget. That’s why it’s a very important event for us. We want to fundraise approximately HKD1,000,000 during this event. [We have organised] this kind of event for almost ten years now and we always had a very successful response. The rest of the budget is covered by the government, a French petrol group and smaller sponsors like corporate entities.

Rem Khoolhaas, 'Lagos', 2007, photographic paper, 112 x 84 cm, special edition for Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Rem Koolhaas, 'Lagos', 2007, photographic paper, 112 x 84 cm, special edition for Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Para/Site Fundraising Auction to sell one-off and special edition works

Can you explain the fundraising event to me in a few words. How do you get the artwork? What happens on the night? How did you select the artists?

The event is basically a fundraising auction. We are very cheeky and we ask the artists to donate their work to Para/Site. Some of the participating artists have worked with us and the others just want to support us in a generous way. During the event, the idea is to sell all the works in a pleasant atmosphere. From the 28 artists that participate in the events, around ten of them will attend the event. Those ten artists are based in Hong Kong. Unfortunately we don’t have the budget to fly all the artist here but we’ll have a very good representation of the selection we made. This night is very special, because it gathers different kinds of personalities together: curators, art gallery owners, artists and art lovers. Make sure to RSVP to attend to the auction as the event, with 100 people expected, will have limited places.

For this fundraising auction, 28 artists will participate. This selection of artists is a good representation of what we do. It is a mix of local Chinese, Asian and international artists. Some are very established and others not so. We’ll have secured the participation of a very established artist, Rem Koolhaas, who is donating a photograph titled Lagos. He has never sold his work before. You know what to do if you want to get it: Come to the Kee Club and it’s yours! We also have Ai Weiwei, a very interesting artist who we already exhibited last April and May. [We have] Zhang Dali, one of the pioneers of the Chinese avant-guarde and a very established artist. We have also a good representation of artists from Hong Kong. This event is a great opportunity to get artworks of a very good quality. I want to highlight also the big support from some galleries and foundations that have donated works to Para/Site, such as Cat Street Gallery. All the works that will be part of the auction will be shown here in Para/Site space.

It’s a big challenge as we curate a large number of art works and deal with artists from all over the world,… almost thirty artists, most of whom do not live in Hong Kong. The process is really like curating a show, the only difference is that the artists donate their work instead of selling it. Surprisingly, most of the artists we approached, even those who didn’t have any past relationship with Para/Site, had heard about this space and wanted to help and support us. It is a big responsibility; it has to go well for us, but it is at the same time a celebration.

Ai Wei Wei, 'Swatter', 2007, brass gilded, 0.5 x 50 x 7cm.

Ai Weiwei, 'Swatter', 2007, brass gilded, 0.5 x 50 x 7cm.

Fominaya on running a non-profit art organisation

How do you choose which artists to represent Para/Site Art Space’s regular exhibition?

For the most part I invite the artists I want to work with. I do review the portfolios that we receive but the process I follow is mostly by invitation. I generally focus in the region, working with Hong Kong artists on international projects as a mission. I’m really focussing on Chinese, Asian and South Asian artists. We use the fact that Hong Kong is a door between the West, China and the south of Asia to get our inspiration for creating our programme. We want to show what Hong Kong means in a political, geographical and economic sense. At the same time, I try to  stay away from what you can find in a commercial gallery. Actually, that’s one of the reasons why we don’t work that much with painters. Most of the work [we show] is installation and moving image. Personally, I’m very interested in moving image art.

Has the mission of Para/Site Art Space changed over time?

We continue with the same philosophy as before my arrival. In these two years, we have been developing more international projects with Hong Kong artists. We have also done a few projects with artists from outside Hong Kong, creating a dialogue between all of them. An example is the exhibition we curated with Joseph Kosuth and Tsang Kin Wah in 2009.

Has Para/Site Art Space always been in Po Yan Street? Or has the gallery been in another location before?

In April 1997, Para/Site Art Space was located in Kennedy Town before moving to its present location in Sheung Wan District, but it looks like we will have to emigrate. Sheung Wan is an area of Hong Kong that is getting very expensive. Next door, a luxurious apartment building is being built. The prices in the area are getting as expensive as the Peak. I think we need to move to a larger space to develop different types of projects with different scales. For the moment, the space that Para/Site has suits the type of exhibitions shown, but also the human resources and the budget we have available.

Sometimes you can find very famous artists in Para/Site. They don’t do the same kind of work they usually do in big museums as they have to adapt their work to the space. They also don’t have so much pressure and they tend to use this space to experiment, trying out different types of work.

How would you like to see Para/Site Art Space grow?

The artist community in Hong Kong is very active and developed. There are many commercial galleries but most of them are small and Hong Kong needs powerful galleries that can support its artists. What we would need in Hong Kong would be a larger number of non-commercial art spaces. A bit like Para/Site but on an even larger scale in order to allow the local art community to develop their projects.

The desire we have for Para/Site is to have a larger budget and a bigger venue that will help us achieve our larger goals. We want to make possible more dialogue with other art spaces around the world in order to develop projects. But this is not a short-term idea. This needs to be done over time to assure its sustainability.

SB/KN/HH

Related Topics: non-profit, art spaces, events, curators, Hong Kong venues

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Hong Kong a desert for new media art? New gallery I/O an oasis – interview

Posted by artradar on July 8, 2010


HONG KONG ART GALLERY CREATIVE DIRECTOR INTERVIEW

Situated on Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road, Input/Output (I/O) is not a usual kind of gallery with ink paintings, sculptures and canvases on display. Instead, being the only gallery in Hong Kong that is primarily focused on promoting new media arts, it is set to de-marginalize the “quirky” art genre through facilitating critical exchanges about it in exhibitions, workshops, talks and meetings with artists. Glass-fronted, the small gallery has been successful in attracting a wide range of visitors, from curious passers-by and tourists to students, curators, artists and professionals from various fields, to gather and have conversations about new media arts.

Having been open for a year, the gallery has held several exhibitions which showcased new media works of art graduates and practitioners mostly from Hong Kong. Presenting Chinese graduate artist Lu Yang’s “A Torturous Vision” this year, the gallery has inspired debates in Hong Kong that question the definition of new media arts and how it binds science, art and technology.

Art Radar Asia spoke to Rachel Connelly, Assistant Creative Director of I/O, to find out more about the background of the gallery and its ambitions going forward.

How is I/O funded?

It’s funded privately – by sales.

Why is I/O situated on Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road?

I think when I came on board, this had already been decided. But it’s a very central location – obviously Hollywood Road is known for its art galleries. We are providing something unlike the commercial spaces that focus more on traditional arts, so we try to provide something very different. We also have the advantage of having a glass-fronted space; people that walk by are very intrigued by what we do.

What led to the establishment of I/O?

The gallery is a platform for new media arts. It is owned by a new media artist, and having realised that there are not many platforms here in Hong Kong for exhibiting new media arts, he wanted to provide a space to promote them. He’s from Hong Kong.

Why is new media art interesting to you?

Being new to Hong Kong and completely new to media, my background was non-profit art-spaces and contemporary visual arts, but not necessarily new media. New media is a new term, a new genre and I wanted to explore that.

There’re obviously a lot of new media artists in Hong Kong, and in China more so, but it is a new genre, too. To me, it’s interesting what it is that defines new media, and what makes it different from just being termed ‘sculpture’, ‘installation’ or mixed media work.

So it is also quite interesting to discover what this term means to artists. It is not our role to give the answers to these questions; our role is to create dialogue around new media art practice and provide exhibitions that ask questions about that. Coming from England, the idea of coming to Hong Kong and China, to where new media art has a great reputation outside itself, was exciting; it is something that artists are really interested in here.

Is the new media art market doing well in Hong Kong?

As I saw it, new media occupied a slightly marginalised and kind of quirky position. It needed to almost come to maturity and stand up for itself as a new genre. The way I saw to do that was to place it within contemporary arts and the conversation around art practice. So everything that is shown in the gallery needs to be asking these questions; it cannot just be about the technology.

I think in terms of the Hong Kong market, the art that is bought here is still very traditional.

What has the I/O done to promote new media arts?

Within a year, we’ve literally been in a position of educating people about new media arts, and we have done this by providing them with exhibitions that will show them examples of that. This is still very new, and so we are also telling people how it is possible to actually buy all these objects, by providing them the equipment necessary to show these works in their homes. We will also help to install it.

Last year we were kind of in a position of educating about new media – because people are still very traditional here in terms of art buying. People buy paintings and sculptures mainly.

Last year we raised a lot of interest by having a lot of different shows ranging from film works and CG animation to even the canvas … we have created a lot of interest in terms of questioning the genre.

What do you think the “traditional arts” in Hong Kong are?

It’s canvas, ink paintings, sculpture, etc.

Who are the people that I/O wants to “educate”?

It’s not really educating but promoting, getting people to be aware of what you’re doing and also to encourage people to switch their focus from more traditional arts to new media. And so it’s just the idea of making people aware that it is there – not necessarily a role, but a position that we find ourselves in, which is fine because that’s still exciting.

How does I/O decide what to show and what not to show?

It is a selective process, project-by-project. We are selecting artists from the world of new media, but then, like I said, it depends on what you see as new media or what artists within the genre, see that to be. I wanted to get away with the idea that it’s just about technology – even if that is important … it’s a new tool, which is fine, but it needs to stand up in terms of content.

'Experiments on the Notation of Shapes' by Joao Basco Paiva is an audio visual installation where architecture is translated into sound, creating a fictional sonic expression of Hong Kong's cityscape.

Is there something that I/O would not show? Are there any examples of new media art that it wouldn’t show?

Have you got a definition of new media arts? Because I haven’t. It is still being decided and that is why it’s very exciting. It is at a very raw stage. It’s what I have been saying – encouraging conversations around what new media arts are. It’s not about definite answers; it’s about discussing what the genre is. Some people think that it’s about software; some people think that it is CG animation; some people think it is interactive self-generative programs. In the case of Lu Yang she has two canvases of her series of five, and this adds to her conversation around bio-art and what that is; I was intrigued about that and wanted to have those conversations in the gallery. So in this case, canvases fall under that. Primarily, it’s about discussion.

So you think that there shouldn’t be any boundaries to art?

Art is about questioning the boundaries, whatever they are. It’s not necessarily an artist’s role. If you are asking me about censorship, that’s a different question, I don’t think there should be censorship, no.

Why does I/O choose to show Lu Yang’s “A Torturous Vision”?

From the beginning I felt that it was necessary for I/O to create a dialogue around what new media is, in order to raise it out of its slightly marginised state, to raise awareness of new media as a genre, and almost ask it to ‘stand up’ for itself, within a contemporary fine art context. It means different things to different artists here in Asia, and even more different to artists in Europe.

All our exhibitions have been trying to create a conversation to discuss what these might be. An example was an early exhibition, “New Media, New Thinking”, which was in response to a call out that I did among artists living in Hong Kong. Proposals came back from very different artists, and I chose three that seemed to all agree that new media had central main themes around interactivity, and also the use of technology.

One was quite a traditional medium actually – film, but questioning the medium itself. By placing the participant directly between the projection and projector, he is questioning the audience’s interactive role within the work.

The second piece, by Evan Roth, was a 3D graffiti app for an iPhone, who said the interactivity for his work couldn’t be any larger than the internet community that views it – he actually uploads all his work using open source software, and then it is available for you to download for free.

The third piece was animated paintings, based around German Abstract Expressionism and ink paintings, but here the artist asks you to interact just by spending time with the work, letting your subconscious unfurl.

These three different approaches interested me [as] to how new media is being used by artists today. We then showed works by Portuguese artist Joao Vasco Paiva, which used complex programming to create a self generative orchestrated score for two projections focusing on Hong Kong cityscapes.

Lu Yang was as intriguing as she falls loosely into a genre, which is much larger in China, called  ‘bio-art’ and this interested me in terms of the discussion around art and science.

What has been the reaction to Lu Yang’s “A Torturous Vision” so far?

Great. It’s intriguing; it pushes all of your buttons. It is an exhibition of extremes. All the artists inspire you in different ways. We have had different people across the board coming in, from science academics, to people visiting Hong Kong and walking past, to artists who came to hear the recent talk by the artist herself.

I/O is also running an off-site project. What is that about?

I/O Off-Site is a way of promoting new media arts in a more public context; it’s also a more commercial project. I still feel that new media arts are still very marginalised and therefore by promoting the media in public places, in interesting developers to use new media arts to show in their buildings, not only continues the conversations, but then in reality we can get media artists jobs! Artists need to survive.

How is I/O different from other galleries in Hong Kong?

We are a commercial space, but we are solely focused on the study of new media. We also run more on a project-by-project basis, as opposed to having a stable of artists that we represent…. We are solely promoting new media arts, but we also offer an events programme that runs along the side our exhibitions. That makes us very different from most commercial galleries. Non-profit organisations like AAA and Para/Site may have this, but not many others commercial galleries. But we saw it necessary to continue the conversation, not just through exhibitions but around talks, events, music programming, film screenings; all these different events are about encouraging the discourse.

What does I/O want to accomplish in the Hong Kong art scene?

The idea of promoting new media arts and artists, to get it on the map. To provide a platform solely focused on this.

What has been the development of I/O so far?

In a year, I feel that in terms of people knowing about us, what we do through our exhibitions and events programme, we have achieved a lot. We are trying different things and providing programs of varying interests. This year we’ll go into our Off-Site project – that’s a whole other exciting year to come.

How is I/O going to develop?

The first year we worked with primarily artists that lived in Hong Kong; the second year is about exploring further into China and Asia. Off-Site projects will be more of a focus too, and this will be artists from all over the world. Future development will be concentrating on taking new media outside the traditional white cube.

Art Radar Asia recently published an overview of young Chinese artist Lu Yang’s controversial bio-art exhibition “A Torturous Vision” – read it here.

CBKM/KN

Related topics: business of art – promoting art, new media art, venues – Hong Kong

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Posted in Business of art, Definitions, Hong Kong, Interviews, Medium, New Media, Promoting art, Venues | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »