An Exclusive Interview With Longping Zhao, Founder of ARTEXB
Above: Ai Weiwei, Roots and Branches (2016)
Founded in 2016 in Beijing, ARTEXB is a project of contemporary art supported by the medium of 360°VR, dedicated to the content and context, documentation, and global distribution of contemporary art and its exhibitions. ARTEXB showcases exhibitions from cities all across China and overseas. To date, they have documented over 150 exhibitions worldwide, which includes 50 prominent galleries and 80 artists and curators.
In 2019, ARTEXB was the only Asia-based team shortlisted for the Digital Innovation in Art Award. .art is proud that over 10,000 China-based creatives chose to house their projects on .art domains.
Today, we interview Longping Zhao, the Founder of ARTEXB.
How did you get into the field of documenting art exhibitions with VR? What was your original intention with ARTEXB?
The financial crisis of 2008 led to the termination of a commercial new media project I was working on. In 2009, a friend of mine introduced me to a gallery in the 798 Art District and I began to build a network in the art world. The Google Art Project went live in early 2011 and inspired my interest in the cross-border field of art and technology. Today Art Museum had a similar project which was called the “Digital Art Museum.” Since I had experience in both the Internet and art industry, I successfully made it into this field.
After graduating from college, I wanted to have a startup of my own, but the time was never right. After I left Today’s Digital Art Museum, I deviated from the field, but was professionally still engaged with the internet and technology, working on commercial projects in design and development. The only exhibition that was filmed during this period was Ai Weiwei’s solo exhibition in 2015 that connected the two galleries – Tang Contemporary Art and Galleria Continua.
It later dawned on me that high-quality exhibitions were scarce, and the good ones weren’t being documented. There are many exhibitions that I personally enjoy, and although I can’t collect the works, I can at least “collect” the exhibitions through documentation. In my opinion, exhibitions, like works of art, are unique and non-renewable. Can I “collect” the exhibition as a work of art? I talked to a friend about this and her feedback was overwhelmingly positive, so I began to take commercial jobs while documenting exhibitions, supporting ARTEXB with commercial projects.
What are the characteristics and advantages of ARTEXB in the field of VR art exhibition documentation in China?
We are different from other VR art exhibition recording teams. We don’t treat a project in the traditional sense of simply getting the job done for a client; we approach each project as an artwork; this is upheld in everything we do from our VR panoramic photography, postproduction, product design and development. ARTEXB is a hybrid entity: it isn’t merely a platform, a company or an entrepreneurial team, but it’s also an art creation group. We travel the world to shoot exhibitions, which, to some level, is an artistic act per se.
It is actually very difficult to digitize exhibitions. It is not a matter of simply shooting them. We need to visit the exhibition and read the texts. It is preferable to have a level of communication with the curator or artist for extracting the key points of the exhibition. In fact, ARTEXB uses VR to simplify a relatively complex exhibition, deconstructing the exhibition through scenes, and implanting relevant information into each scene.
What’s your most exciting achievement to date?
There isn’t anything concrete, but I feel that the most exciting achievement is that my partner, Mingyuan Zhang, and I have worked on ARTEXB projects for over three years without support or investment. Sometimes, when I look at the extensive volume of exhibitions on the website, I truly feel the power of time.
What artist would you ideally like to work with and why?
If I had the opportunity, I would want to collaborate with under-the-radar foreign artists. I’d love to discover these artists – those who can truly touch my heart – and use VR to document their art exhibitions and share them with art lovers worldwide.
Tell us a bit about your latest project.
We recently applied for a project with a domestic art foundation. We put together a list of national non-profit art spaces in several cities across the country and within the timespan of about a year, we plan to shoot and produce VR exhibitions for art professionals and the public to watch online. This also involves the development of a set of VR glasses, and a physical exhibition that culminates at the end of the year. We want to eventually display the results produced in this year in the form of a. “VR artwork”.
Do you think that the art scene will be completely transformed by technology within the next 50 years?
Some people say that the new media artists of today are the painters of the past, but their brushes are now computers and software, and their canvases are screens. Artists can rely on technology to fulfill and complete their artistic vision.
What defines one as an “artist” may also change, and artists that make physical artwork will become scarce.
In the era of social media, why would you set up a website for ARTEXB, and why did you choose .art domains for this purpose?
We use social media as supplementary tools to showcase and promote ARTEXB. However, we still need to have a website for establishing our brand image. ARTEXB is one of a handful websites in the world that offers VR exhibition content. Perhaps one day ARTEXB might grow to become a platform in its own right.
We chose a .art domain because we wanted to be a part of a large, global connection of people in the art world, which in turn would help us be discovered by art lovers similar to us.
Do you think VR exhibitions will gradually replace physical exhibitions?
A: I don’t think so. VR and physical exhibitions will achieve a more harmonious coexistence, complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I read your article with the Founder of the Kremer museum, and he said that “the ratio of offline visitors to online visitors is 1:5.” I think this is likely to be a comparison made during a museum’s exhibition period. I remember someone once said that when people are bored in elevators, advertisements become content.
If advertising can be content, why not art?
Do you think ARTEXB has room for improvement?
Very much so. There are two kinds of development – you can develop products and platforms, or the market itself. Objectively speaking, I think we have only achieved 10-20% of the two. We are still far away from real productization and platformization. In the past three years, we have basically collected exhibitions and occupied a place in the world of VR exhibitions. We are still in the process of perfecting ARTEXB while facing many difficulties as we are currently stuck in between two awkward industries. Nevertheless, we are optimistic about the future.
What is your favourite art-related book?
Wu Hong’s book An Exhibition about Exhibitions: displaying Experimental Art in the 1990s. This book is about the art history of contemporary Chinese arts. There is a quote from the book that says that “art cannot exist without place,” which is one of the reasons why we go to the physical location of exhibitions to document arts.
Learn more: artexb.art