A Case Study of the Taipei Biennial from Taiwan to the Globe
[UC Merced Blogging Award 2021] By Gwen Kuan-ying Kuo
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the art world to its knees, and the contemporary art scene in particular needs more viewers and feedback to sustain itself. Artists require new channels connecting them with their audiences, and the artwork needs to be seen and appreciated by the public, curators, critics, dealers, and collectors to sustain its values. But the pandemic has forced the cancellation of many art exhibitions, some are even closed permanently. Will the pandemic bring the end of the art world?
To survive, artists, curators and art institutions are now aggressively using websites and social media to maintain activities. As the global pandemic forces art events moving online with digital media campaigns to gain viewership, the case of the 2020 Taipei Biennial exhibition hints at the likely future of art shows even after the pandemic. Though awkwardly, the health crisis squeezes many art events and social interactions into a two-dimensional screen (a small box) while viewers shelter at home (a larger box).
The Taipei Biennial adopts a digital marketing campaign to maintain international art patronage, especially of the financially stable millennial viewers and younger Gen Z audience who feel comfortable with the virtual world via social apps. The Biennial curatorial team posts English-and-Chinese bilingual press releases with artwork images to its official website for all global netizens to view, use and create their own posts on personal blogs or vlogs. Exposés about the Taipei Biennial have also been featured by a variety of online (such as Ocula) and in-print media outlets. Particularly, the social media app plays a significant role in delivering the exhibition information, including visually appealing images, detailed descriptions of curators’ and artists’ ideas with their interviews on YouTube, Vimeo, or bilibili video-hosting sites. The growing user-base of Chinese social apps further complicates the digital marketing game. Moreover, the big data underneath many social media algorithm models generate a tailored feed list of content for each user by analyzing the content features and users’ interactivities.
The digital exposure of the Taipei Biennial 2020 work to recover some of the “connections” between audiences and the art event during the pandemic: posting pictures of artworks against a virtual white wall, sending multilingual press releases, syncing news feeds to keep art patrons updated. International viewers also comment on the event on blogs, vlogs, and audio-video-embedded sites. Many art aficionados take the role of marketers and active interpreters, with online authors editing and commenting on the Taipei Biennial for their blogs, WeChat microblogs, Instagram posts, vlogs on YouTube or Douyin video-sharing platform. Through print, photocopy, digital, or other technical reproduction of the exhibition information and images, the art exhibition is accessible to global netizens beyond distance.
Critically, many participated artists’ agent galleries have designed webpages and online viewing rooms embedded cookies: collecting the visitors’ basic information (such as gender, age, and profession) and activate automatic customer surveys and basic analytics to sustain viewers’ engagement (Schneider 2020). In other words, online data-tracking functions similarly to the guest books at the front desk in a gallery that physically gather visitors’ contact information. The difference is that, without in-person communication, the metrics and digital algorithms embedded in links for partner websites collect more information than a guest book, including the viewer’s visiting webpage, views per page, views per artwork, which webpage receives the most views and for how long, total page views, visitors’ average time spent on the website and the number of viewers from which city or country. Artificial intelligence algorithms simultaneously sequence a website’s viewing records, the audience’s viewing habits, and preferences, and automatically select the information to present on the viewer’s screen. With these data, the online viewing space customizes the user experience automatically.
Digital media and mediation have amplified and transformed an art exhibition. Essentially, the online world is a realm of visual spectacle. Viewers have been overwhelmed by image flows in cyberspace that blur the boundary between high art and everyday life. As a result, to stand out from countless compelling virtual presentations, artists and art event organizers need new message-delivery strategies, and perhaps even most important, a skillful technology team. The competition among art events is more intensified on URL than IRL (in-real-life), because the exhibitions now not only compete with one another for viewers’ attention among extensive digital information, but also with other cultural industries and visually compelling e-commerce webpages – from fashion and design and to visually compelling websites incorporating with digital tycoons’ cross-national empires such as Amazon or Alibaba.
Conclusively, more than just a solution to sustaining the art exhibition during a pandemic, an online exhibition and its duplications are permanent, and the exhibition value increases as the digital reproduction of the images and messages spreading immediately on world wide web. That is, in some ways, the forced digital expansion of these biennials has resulted in improvements, and the health crisis might therefore have resulted in a permanent shift in art industries moving from physical to virtual space. Crucially, the most urgent challenge in viewing an art show online is more than the lack of physical experience, but how the big data underneath (and collected by the cross-national big tech empires) are constantly calculating our minds, desires, and artistic evaluation.