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Media Arts in Hong Kong: Mediating between Audiences and Artists

This year, the 21-year-old Microwave International New Media Arts Festival, with its main exhibition spanning across 10 days in October, received an unprecedentedly huge crowd visiting – at least tripled from 400-500 per day in the past to 1400-1500 this year. Visitors queued up to enter the exhibition hall, and the line extended to even the garden outside the premise. Visitors queued up to – although not entirely – take selfies in front of artworks and post to their own social media. There were even popular-among-youngster social media channels, many of which were pretty much unheard of to the curatorial team, offering tips as to how to pose in front of artworks.

Earlier in 2017, Videotage, a long-standing media arts organisation in Hong Kong, organised the exhibition “One World Exposition 2.1 #like4like” and deliberately encouraged visitors to take photos and post to social media. The exhibition venue, occupying just 3000 square feet in a shopping mall, attracted over 15,000 visitors in the two-month exhibition period. Thousands of images of the artworks, especially Chan Wai’s Unprecedented Freedom (An Advertising Slogan), flooded Hong Kong netizens’ Facebook and Instagram accounts.

People flocking to media arts exhibition just for posting nice photos on social media is not entirely a bad phenomenon. Eye candy-type of artworks are perhaps more common in media arts than other art forms, with its often involvement of light and sound elements, multi-media presentations, installation-type of works, etc. “Coming to take photos at least mean they are interested, but it’s education that can turn that into something long lasting,” said Joel Kwong, Programme Director of the Microwave International New Media Arts Festival. She explained that Audience education has always been on the organisation’s agenda, as it is education that can “groom the audiences into sophisticated ones, or at least, art lovers,” said Kwong.

The Microwave Festival, seeing the potential of social media, is considering to turn their own social media channel into a public education platform. Joel Kwong suggested, “Microwave Festival is a one-off festival thing, and then the impact will be limited. But the potential of social media is unbelievable. We will try to turn that into an education platform so we can construct a relationship with audience.” Developing audience for media arts might be more difficult than other art forms, as one can hardly have access to media arts works outside of exhibitions; yet in another sense they might be more accessible than other art works for the technologies employed are often so familiar – GPS, motion sensors, sound detectors, touchscreens… As Kwong would put it, the technologies in media arts works are often between “invention and intervention” – soon after it was invented and before it intervenes our daily lives.