Initiated by LEE Kai Chung and SHEN Jun in 2021, stepbackforward.art is a collective art project that gathers the fragments of emerging artists’ archives and ideas scattered in the public domain, and gradually generates an online archives by weaving into a specific tagging and mapping system. An open call was launched for local emerging artists (Visual, text, sound, image, and performing artists) between the ages of 21-35, to recruit their methodologies of researching, artmaking and surviving, then to engage all participants in a dialogue to explore the connection of the local art community. The project will be presented as an online platform at the first stage, which will be released on 30th June 2021.
Under the shade of global epidemic in 2020, isolation has become a new normal, the seemingly invisible global borders have resurfaced. We deeply feel the stagnation and stasis of our times, whereas individuals become scrupulous than ever before. It is not that we are scarcely aware of the undercurrent conditions or the long-existing unsolved, only now one can no longer remain exclusive and ignorant, No Man is an Island. No matter being secluded or self-isolating, face-to-face contact has drawn fear, and digitisation seems to be the inevitable solution. However, despite that art can be encoded into strands of messages in the same way as one’s social media status, the Internet as a medium could be more than a solution to the obstacles posed by the pandemics, but contributes to rekindle real connections with each other in the midst of our predicament. As artists and art practitioners, we believe that there is no substitute for the perception and imagination that art brings. Thus, we regard stepbackforward.art as a series of exercises where conversations generate archives, fragments of ideas float across the internet, random algorithms replace preconceptions, and uncertainty turns into expectation. Everything is about surviving, continuing, breaking through, and reconstructing.
It is a yearning for ‘publicness’ that brings about stepbackforward.art, not as an institutionalised agency, but as an ‘open platform’ developed in a bottom-up approach. stepbackforward.art’s team also comprises individual art practitioners, knowing that limited resources and potential of openness are two sides of a coin. Given that the project is funded by public resources, by the same token, through reallocation of the granted resources, we expect collective effort maximises ‘publicness’. Our attempt is to outline an alternative art ‘interface’, that unfolds into a more flexible spatiotemporality of art scene paralleled to the existing.
Distinguished from the interface demonstration of conventional platforms, stepbackforward.art is designed to emphasise the performance of random retrieval of archival fragments. Rather than lining up standard artists pages composed by fixed components, the ‘artist’ appears as a comprehensive hyperlink defined by the fragments; artwork and its subject matter are no longer a universal criterion for accessing artists, we concern more about how artists develop substantial productive practices in challenging situation and system, embracing diverse perceptions and reflections of the moment and transform them into visual, audio and textual archives. The project will recruit artists by open calls and invitations then follow up with a series of dialogues, generating a tagging system and relational mapping through the keywords and archives provided by the participating artists, which develops into a continuously expanding network of collectively constructed relationships. Once diving into the website, one will be greeted by a cloud of archives and multimedia fragments randomly delivered and displayed in real time. Users can browse through the floating materials in the interface, encountering occasional pop-ups of noise, as if they are navigating a world of thoughts that will not be silenced.
It is believed that moving forward is always the destination of stepping back. Through stepbackforward.art, we strive to preserve part of the ‘present’, a narrow rift stretched by fragmented archives in the online space-time and an interstice in the transition of generations and the times.
As the project is mainly funded by community resources, we hope to create a gift economy between the parties, even limited resources can be redistributed to those in need during difficult times.
Honorarium will be paid to participating artists that choose to contribute in questionnaires, dialogues and publication. Online resources and pedagogies will be published and made available for free online download.
stepbackforward.art will be developed into a sustainable archives, search engine and pedagogy exchange platform for archive creators and web users to learn together – demonstrating the link between data, keywords and people in real time generative visuals, like breaking down each page of a book and laying it out again on a desk; the juxtaposed methodologies also help web users to interpret artists’ practices, while facilitating interaction and collaborative learning among artists.
Regarding the art world, the pandemic has not only severely affected local physical events and exhibitions, but has also forced the cancellation of international physical exchanges due to the necessary costs of travelling. Under this circumstance, artists have to adapt their practice accordingly; by documenting those changes, it will open up the possibilities and creativity of international exchange. stepbackforward.art algorithmically regroups the keywords tagging and methodologies provided by the artists, as a result, personal and contemporary contexts will be sorted out. The project will culminate in an online index and archives that will serve as both a showcase, relational map and search engine for artist information, artistic practices and methodologies.
This reinforced connection between individuals and communities transcends the spatiotemporal limitations of the existing art system, would somewhat reveal a dynamic art ecology derived from Hong Kong and open up a potential mode of participation.