Does Art Tech have a future in Hong Kong Does Art Tech have a future in Hong Kong Does Art Tech have a future in Hong Kong
Does Art Tech have a future in Hong Kong
Let’s talk about changes required first before developments.
Excerpt from an interview with Mathias Woo in Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po, September 22, 2021
The definition of Art Tech is quite simple, and nowadays we see countless examples of combining art with technology. The history of Art Tech may seem to be a short one, but a closer look reveals that it is actually not that short. Remember those years when radio and Hi-Fi sound systems brought music to tens of thousands of households; and when TV and movies accelerated the popularity of those programmes normally performed in theatres and teahouses; and when lighting and loudspeakers affected stage design and layout. In fact, technological leaps have left unique marks on the development of art in every era. In the present internet era, Art Tech with the latest technology is bringing a brand-new look to the performing arts as well as transforming people’s sensory experience.
Mathias Woo, the Co-Artistic Director of Zuni Icosahedron, has a deep understanding on this matter. He believes that the Art Tech development reflects how the progress of technological civilisation is affecting human beings in each individual’s cultural life and consumption mode. “The situation is similar to the times before books came into existence when people had to learn by heart. Then the invention of printing helped to free the human brain from the task of learning by heart. Then when monotonous jobs started to be replaced by technology, it also gave artists an opportunity to engage in artistic creation,” Mathias Woo stated solemnly. “We have come to a tipping point now. The composition of art facilities and programmes for the future must be redefined now.”
If the infrastructure is yet to be built, how can we talk about development?
Art Tech is going to affect the entire social ecology. Therefore, naturally its infrastructural construction should be similar to the laying of power grids and water pipes in cities. If the infrastructure has not been built, how can we talk about development? In last year’s Policy Address it was mentioned: “The East Kowloon Cultural Centre under construction will use the latest technology and equipment to provide all-round computer installations for stage productions, equipping with Extended Reality technology and Immersive audio-visual systems, to develop the centre into an advanced arts and cultural venue.” The new cultural centre will be completed in two years. It is now in the active phase of procurement of new equipment for the performance venues. Sure the public is hopeful to welcome the new cultural centre in the future. However, what Mathias Woo worries about is that the promotion of Art Tech in Hong Kong still remains at the superficial stage of focusing purely on organsing exhibitions and events, rather than promoting in-depth and holistic developments which are based on a reform of arts policies with a comprehensive view and design.
What exactly is a comprehensive development of Art Tech? Mathias Woo stated his understanding on the matter: “Firstly, the big data of a city needs to be well organised and managed. The artistic big data is very important as it includes the city’s computer ticketing network as well as the cultural and artistic consumption patterns of its citizens. Well-managed networks of big data can help relevant organisations to have better understanding of the current market situations in Hong Kong. Based on such understanding, further studies on how to expand the market can be conducted, and how to create specifically more room for artists’ development, rather than depending solely on government subsidies. Secondly, the hardware of cultural facilities such as theatres and museums in Hong Kong must have an overall upgrade, including the installation of wireless networks. At the same time the management mode of the theatre needs transformation too for an ageing population means it is becoming more and more difficult to recruit staff. Thirdly, it is about education, which happens to be the most important part and is currently the biggest problem facing Hong Kong. The fundamental shortcoming in education is that it is not led by experts in the field, and there is a great lack of professional technicians who have a genuine understanding of art.
“If Art Tech is to be developed into an industry, more professional teams with clear concepts and a collective spirit are desperately needed for such development. Only then can Art Tech have a big future.”
Art education is lacking professionally-led leadership
It is hard to generalise the shortcomings in local art education. Mathias Woo summed it up in one line: “Art education is lacking professionally-led leadership.” He further explained: “It is not difficult to combine art with technology. It just requires mastering the basic skills of coding and hardware, and then constantly putting the skills into training and practice. Even though the part of technology is finally completed by professional technicians, we still need to have an understanding of how their work is carried out. These areas can all be learned through courses, but the current courses in Hong Kong are not designed to train students to master both art and technology.”
Mathias Woo acknowledged the important role of the master-apprentice system that has been adopted on the Mainland to this day. Then taking the talent training model of Zuni Icosahedron as an example, Mathias explained: “At Zuni we are all learning and practicing at the same time, instead of writing papers. Whether we’ve done well or poorly, everything will be put into practice first, and then analysed and reviewed. The entire art education ecology in Hong Kong is characterised by a lack of practice of seeking advice/opinion from experts. Even when buying equipment rarely do we see experts’ opinions being sought and followed. Therefore, the education model needs to be reformed. If Art Tech is to be developed into an industry, more professional teams with clear concepts and a collective spirit are desperately needed for such development. Only then can Art Tech have a big future.”
XR (Extended Reality) Experiment, Z Innovation Lab Educational Activities (2020)
Arts Tech ABC, Z Innovation Lab (2020)
The growth of students depends on both training and practice; and training and practice depend on the support of arts groups through their resources; and arts groups depend on government venues for rehearsals and performances. “Hong Kong actually does not lack venues to put Art Tech into practice. Simply look at the availability of parks, stadiums, such as the Hong Kong Science Park and even Ocean Park Hong Kong. However, the effective usage of these venues requires concrete implementation by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department,” Mathias Woo explained. Even the loftiest towers are built up from the ground, and the same is true for Art Tech development. Infrastructure is like building foundations; education is like bricks and tiles. Education also plays the role of attracting young people into the art world. However, in this process, there are many segments that require long-term investment without generating immediate results, and hence do not easily attract investment. Mathias Woo recounted with a smile that in the year when Zuni created its stage and technology workshop Z Innovation Lab, the Studio Theatre of Hong Kong Cultural Centre was converted into a stage technology laboratory, breaking the norm of theatre usage by exploring and combining the possibilities of various performance forms and technologies in real situations. That experiment is still often criticised for wasting space and resources to do something “unintelligible.” However, Zuni always keeps their goal clear and manages to stick to it.
Cooperate with the Greater Bay Area to build big data
Art Tech in Hong Kong can actually be developed with a much broader view. Mathias Woo suggested that the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (ADC) can cooperate with technology companies in the Greater Bay Area to construct big data platforms and apps that cover the areas of art promotion, education and scientific research. Tactics should then be devised to attract more citizens and students to join and become App members. “ADC’s work is never about purely giving out funds, instead it should think about how to give artists more room for development, such as inviting more artists into schools, or providing studios for them. ADC should formulate long-term plans in these areas, and look for more new opportunities to promote the arts of Hong Kong.”
He said that ADC is actually given a lot of power and can propose art policies to the government. It plays a key role in the process of promoting the development of art. “ADC shouldn’t be so under-funded. The money is an investment in the arts which would help increase the artistic atmosphere of a place and raise the status of artists in society. Hong Kong already has many understated masters who work incessantly in their own quiet corners. Some of them have reached world standards, but their living environment is still very poor, and some are even without their own work studios,” he lamented. “Hong Kong artists have the right to freedom of expression, but not the right to development.”
Riding on the development opportunities from the government to private sectors, Mathias Woo hopes that Art Tech will become a catalyst to promote the “reform and opening-up” of Hong Kong people’s norms of thought, healing the “art phobia” created by the belief that “art doesn’t make a living”. It also requires the government to develop a clear strategy for Art Tech development so that Hong Kong artists have more opportunities to develop and move further ahead. In this virtuous cycle, the creative energy of all walks of life in society will be set into vibration, and Hong Kong’s competitiveness on the world stage will be enhanced.