Para Site's Billy Tang on Positioning Hong Kong as an Innovation Hub

June 28, 2023

We sat down with Para Site's Executive Director, Billy Tang, to discover how the Hong Kong institution is positioning the city as a hub for artistic innovation...

Para Site is Hong Kong’s leading contemporary art centre and one of the oldest and most active independent art institutions in Asia, producing exhibitions, publications, discursive and educational projects aimed at forging a critical understanding of local and international phenomena in art and society. During Art Basel Hong Kong, Arcual partnered with Para Site and ArtReview on an event, reinforcing our commitment to supporting the art community throughout the ecosystem.

In this conversation, learn more about the important institution’s relationship with technology, and their plans for the future.

What trends are you noticing about how visitors to Para Site interact with artworks today?

The intersection with technology has had a profound effect on how we learn, share, and discover new ways to platform and give shape to artistic ideas and experiences. The line between a creator and audience has always been fluid. I think one interesting byproduct is the way writing has evolved to different formats online. We are currently working on a project about reengaging with a community who have recently left Hong Kong, and the project takes the form of an experimental newsletter that bundles together an eclectic ‘care package’. Liberated from the physical constraints of an exhibition, we are able to transmit stories, art, prose, and other critical ideas that float around in the space between email inboxes, social media platforms, various websites and beyond.

Are art collectors in Hong Kong more comfortable with technology, in comparison to other regions you’ve experienced?

There is definitely a passionate and engaged community of patrons and art lovers who are leading pioneers in various fields. This spans not just from a group of people advocating for the latest ideas connected to NFTS or the Metaverse, but also thinkers or theorists who are looking critically at these intersections, often from a philosophical perspective too. I'm thinking of people like Ackar Abbas or Yuk Hui for example. For me, this critical voice in relation to a diversity of figures involved leads to a greater balance in the ecosystem. It's an essential ingredient and combination of factors that can lead to much more interesting debates and ideas to evolve in a more dynamic and sustainable fashion that goes beyond pure speculation for the sake of hype.

There are many existing power dynamics in the artworld. What role do you think art institutions play in the art ecosystem? And, is this particularly distinct or unique in the Hong Kong region?

I think the thing that defines Hong Kong is the ability of the people in Hong Kong to move fluently between many different languages and ideas. What makes it unique here is our history of being a transnational bridge between cultures. There is a robust and creative ecosystem that has developed here, with so many different types of institutions who each play a different role to support the greater good for the nurturing of culture in the region. For example, you have in M+, an unrivalled museum focusing on collecting and forging an art historical narrative from the perspective of Asia. There is Taikwun Contemporary, which has emerged with a creative and experiential program of artists. There is Asia Art Archive, which adds a scholarly focus to the way we document and share the histories of exhibitions, arts initiatives, and research connecting Hong Kong to Asia and the wider international community. In Para Site, you have an organisation that looks to pioneer and position the city at the forefront of experiments that can inspire and nurture a future generation of curators and artists.

What do you see as the main benefits of Arcual’s blockchain technology for the art ecosystem?

What could be intriguing is the possibility of initiatives that could help our organisations to have customisable contracts, which would ensure a transparent system of recouping production costs in event of a re-sale of the work. The crucial keyword being ‘customisable’ as these situations are never a one size fits all template. There are so many intricacies of deciding what constitutes support, whether monetary or in terms of a curatorial service to guide the conceptual development,  and then making a decision on when and what the appropriate solution might be for any given partnership.

The recognition and question of how a non-profit organisation might recoup costs from a commissioned project is complex and nuanced. But ultimately, by digitising the system, there could be more options available to receive support on different scales in relation to various scenarios or situations.

What needs to happen for the art world to become more oriented towards championing artists? And, do you believe technology can play a part in facilitating that shift?

In a utopian world, I think how technology could help to expand horizons is by diversifying the system of how practitioners can receive support, which is still driven and based around the economy of physical objects and the idea of scarcity. In an age, where art can take the form of an easily reproducible medium, the system has not really adapted to this reality. With initiatives like kickstarter, we are seeing glimmers of other ways that non commercial projects can be supported or at least receive a crucial first round of funding to gather momentum. This is more from a philosophy of working where small gestures might accrue in another way to provide significant support to an ambitious experimental project. We are still waiting for a system that can be more responsive and adaptable to models of making things happen in a more collective way through the embrace of technology.

Does Para Site have plans to harness Web3 technologies for current or future exhibitions?

We have an ongoing project, where we want to recreate key landmark exhibitions and locations in Para Site’s long history and evolution as an alternative art space. The idea is that this could provide the stage and props for an avatar (our chair) to provide a once in a lifetime tour to a lucky patron. Through storytelling, we found another way to engage and reconnect the community with important moments that speak of what makes us so unique as a place within the context of Hong Kong. We conceived of this like an experience package, which was auctioned alongside more conventional artworks during our annual fundraising gala.

Learn more about Para Site's pioneering programme here. Stay tuned for more from Arcual Stories!

Installation view of ‘signals…folds and splits’, Para Site, Hong Kong, 2023. Photo: South Ho|「瞬息⋯⋯展與接」展覽現場,香港Para Site藝術空間,2023年。攝影:何兆南

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