Putting together a purely online art exhibit presented independent curator Yang Lim with both an opportunity and a puzzle — how do you choose and display the pieces without compromising either the art or the viewer experience?
"It was an interesting challenge," he said of Shifting Articulations of Asian-ness in Contemporary Canada, which recently closed after a six-week run. "I had a lot of back and forth with the artists."
He tried not to curate based on how easily an artist's work would adapt to the screen. "It was more, 'OK, I'd like to start working with what she's doing. Let's see what we can do to translate it for an online exhibit.'"
While pandemic limitations gave the online format advantages over a gallery showing, Lim said he had been toying with the idea for some time as a way of addressing the accessibility of art shows and growing his own craft as a curator.
"I was hoping that by presenting something online, that it could maybe attract a broader audience. It's an inconvenience on someone having to physically go to a specific space to experience an art exhibit."
The online format also saved Lim the cost of shipping artwork from across the country or renting equipment to properly display it, allowing him to stretch the funding the exhibition received from the Edmonton Arts Council and the City of Edmonton and include artists that might have otherwise been outside his budget.
Shifting Articulations featured the work of 12 artists of Asian heritage from across Canada, pulling together a complex diversity of communities, perspectives, styles, and mediums. Some, like Edmonton-based artist Wei Li's contribution, were digitally native and easily incorporated into the web layout. Others were not.
"So in that case, it's a representation of the installation on a webpage. So there are some challenges around that," Lim said. "I was debating — could we still create a good, interesting audience experience, despite the fact that how you see an installation in person is quite different from seeing something like photos of it online? So then that's where the artist actually produced something to kind of supplement that."
Lim received a Cultural Diversity in the Arts grant in 2018, which he used to develop an eight-artist exhibition about Asian identities in Canada. Shifting Articulations was not a direct continuation, Lim said, but there are overlaps in subject matters that have taken on new significance since his last show.
"With endemic Asian hate crimes and so on, to me that makes what I'm doing even more pressing and important. Part of the problem of racism is that everyone is lumped into the same category and under certain misconceptions and stereotyping," Lim said.
"I wanted to avoid that homogenization of experience," Lim explained. "That's also why I wanted to have different mediums represented. So it's not just all photography or all illustration – it's a variety of things that add complexity to how experiences are represented."
Shifting Articulations ran from June 25 to Aug. 7, and attracted viewers from across North America and beyond, Lim said. He's not sure what form his next project will take, but there are still many possibilities in online curation that he is interested in exploring.
"I'm always thinking of different and creative ways that I could carry an exhibit. So this will definitely be part of the options that I would keep in mind for next time."