As the worst pandemic we have seen in a century, COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of life. In response to how people have reacted under the new normal, the Cultural Management Programme is presenting its first online interactive exhibition, “____ing”. The exhibition is co-curated by 11 students from the course CUMT3005 Design Your Exhibition – Curatorial Planning and Practice offered by the Cultural Management Programme.
Supervised by Professor Isaac Leung, Assistant Professor of the Cultural Management Programme, the curators brings together thirteen groups of artists to present our life experience during the pandemic. The exhibition consists of four parts: “Normal Temperature” uses “temperature” as a clue to explore how technology intervenes in everyday life; “M i k 6” reveals the tension between individuals’ desire for freedom and the search for solace; “So Close, So Far” makes use of creativity to push spatial boundaries; and “Let’s Call It A Day” challenges the definition of time and happiness. They seek to explore the processes of change and adaptation that continue to intertwine with normality.
Immersive virtual space
Traditionally, an exhibition is an organised presentation and display of physical objects. At the time when physical access was limited during the pandemic, curators had to explore innovative ways to adapt to the change. While many exhibitions online attempt to reproduce the experience of viewing physical galleries, “____ing” invites the audience to enter an immersive virtual space designed for the senses. In the “Normal Temperature” section, it invites audiences to check their temperature before entering the exhibition, inspiring audiences to rethink how technology intervenes in everyday life. Through one of the artworks in the “M i k 6” section, the curators strive to advocate inner equilibrium and the search for a moment of serenity by inviting audiences to “play” the seesaw as a single player. Throughout each of the works, the curators invite audiences to fill their own “____” with creativity and seek their own ways to breathe amidst the new normal.
Making use of computer software and lens-based equipment, Professor Leung taught his student how to utilise new media to curate exhibitions that integrate technology, aesthetics and practicality. “New forms of collaborative models and cultural production have created profound opportunities for artists, curators and art institutions to set examples and create both models that bring different fields into contact and projects that investigate new ways of exhibiting arts,” said Professor Leung. “I taught students the technical aspects of new media technologies and ways to integrate research skills and theoretical knowledge into curatorial practice.”
Uncertainty brings inspiration
The exhibition responds to the ever-changing normality and complex restrictions. It all sprang from unexpected challenges in life. Originally, the final course work for CUMT3005 was in the form of a physical exhibition. Due to the fifth wave of COVID-19, all courses in Term 2 of 2021-22 had to be taught online. Physical events had to be cancelled. The uncertainty in life inspired students to ponder how the pandemic affected the everyday life of Hong Kong people. They explored how the terms, such as “new normal,” had brought new meaning to people’s lives. “The unexpected challenges during moments of crisis, on the one hand, brought disruption; on the other hand, they encouraged students to critically reconsider people’s lives from different perspectives,” said Professor Leung. “During the brainstorming sessions, students came up with a list of potential works, then looked for relevant theories to frame their ideas. Despite the challenges the pandemic brought, students also discovered that people were able to come up with creative ideas to deal with the hardship.”
From physical to virtual
Curating an exhibition is never easy, let alone an interactive virtual one. “Many of the artworks were created for a physical exhibition setting. Students had to come up with strategies to alter the works in a way that would reveal contextually relevant details and be cognisant of the interface and experience of an online environment,” said Professor Leung. His students learned to be aware that online exhibitions are neither a duplicate nor a replacement for physical exhibitions. They reorganised the materials in a multifaceted environment where users could interplay between real and digital. “Students had to take a proactive position to liaise with artists, web designers and other parties in order to determine possible solutions,” said Professor Leung. He was pleased to see that his students transformed from being passive learners to being engaged producers and participants of digital media.
Curated by students from the course of CUMT3005 Design Your Exhibition – Curatorial Planning and Practice, the virtual exhibition “____ing” is open to the public until August 2023. The project is supported by the Funding Scheme for Virtual Teaching and Learning.