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Crazy Counting at Hong Kong Pavilion!

10.7.2015
Wong To Hin Nixon

Wong To Hin Nixon

Venice Biennale Intern

Nobody can deny that Venice Biennale is one of the biggest fabulous art events in the world. This year 84 countries set up their national pavilions (where 52 are at there two main sites while 32 are around the town), and 44 extra exhibitions as official collateral events of the Venice Biennale also suddenly bloom all around town. Needless to say, another 80 art events are also happening simultaneously, coloring the whole city with that extra bit of art frenzy.

Every year various groups of people come to Venice to enjoy the arts, including art lovers, collectors, curators, artists, summer school students and teachers, tourists who are just passing by, neighbours in Venice as well as the workers who come from other Italian cities. During your seemingly dull working hours at the exhibition reception, one of the ways to make your work more fascinating is to observe your audience and their art appreciation habits. These exercise also informs us on how to create a more fruitful exhibition visiting experience for the visitors.

Therefore, I started a crazy plan and tried to pay attention to people’s art appreciation behavior that are you may seldom notice at the exhibition. I call it “Crazy Count” as I am going to use a statistic method, a much objective approach, to look into something subjective, that is how an audience visit an exhibition. Although everyone has their personal preference and there is no absolute answer, I hope some insights can be found in this statistical counting.

Let’s start from a simple question!
When we sit at the reception, performing as a receptionist to greet audience, what we will always see is:

(a) an endless darkness
(b) a title board full of text
(c) a perplexed audience who wants to find the exhibition entrance
(d) an audience carrying their own imaginations or comments with exaggerated sentiments towards the show
(e) all of the above answers

Yes! The answer is (e). But what trigger the “Crazy Count” I had in mind is (b) the title board. How many people would read carefully the curatorial statement before their visit? Or would they just prefer to go into the exhibition and enjoy? So I randomly picked 3 days at the end of June and made a counting for this question. Here’s the result I got:

24 Jun (Wed) 10am – 6pm 
Total number of head count: 462
Total number of “crazy” count: 377
Number of audience reading title board: 105 (27.9%)
Number of audience just go in: 229 (60.7%)
Number of audience just stay for less than 10 seconds: 43 (11.4%)

26 Jun (Fri) 10am – 8pm

Total number of head count: 334
Total number of “crazy” count: 254
Number of audience reading title board: 75 (29.5%)
Number of audience just go in: 152 (59.9%)
Number of audience just stay for less than 10 seconds: 27 (10.6%)

28 Jun (Sun) 10am – 6pm
Total number of head count: 364
Total number of “crazy” count: 329

Number of audience reading title board: 90 (27.4%)
Number of audience just go in: 202 (61.4%)
Number of audience just stay for less than 10 seconds: 37 (11.2%)

For sure, there are limitations as I mark the figures, for example, I cannot count during my one-hour lunch break, or when I am called away unexpectedly for any maintenance issue. However, this research is still important and interesting as it does show some tendency of audience’s behavior. Here are my findings by looking into the figures completed with some of my other observations at the reception.
(1) Nearly 1/3 of audience (27.4% – 29.5%) read the curatorial statement carefully before seeing the artwork. Meanwhile, around 2/3 of audience (59.9% – 61.4%) just make a visit without any information or exhibition background.
(2) 10.6% – 11.4% audience have a glance at the curatorial statement. Their attention time is around 5 – 7 seconds.
(3) Visitors coming in the morning prefer to read the text before visiting, but in the afternoon, most of them just go in.
(4) Senior visitors love to read the statement while teenagers, couples and families don’t.
To summarize, you will see that a high proportion of audience is intrigued and cannot wait to see the artwork. They just go into the exhibition and stay inside without getting any on-site exhibition information (OK… Perhaps they could have checked our website before coming. Though I think the possibility is not so high. Who knows?). The quickest visit only lasts for around 30 seconds but normally people take 3-5 minutes. After seeing the artwork, as they come out, some may read the curatorial board (again) and take the booklet for further information (or as souvenir).

Personally, I love this visiting pattern that I do not have any background before seeing the artwork. I will sometimes even do so intentionally to keep a distance from it. I often think that the information will affect our interpretation to the artwork. A good piece of art should speak for itself! It embodies a meaningful message, a sensitive emotion and a great value or reflection, that could establish that invisible connection between your inner self. And I think that demonstrates the power of communication.
Undoubtedly, it is all about your personal habit or preference on art appreciation. To me, the statement is less significant but is also necessary as some of the audience would want a clearer direction on how to appreciate the artwork or get the concept of the exhibition. However, what makes contemporary art interesting is the infinitive possibilities it allows. You can make your own interpretation from what you discovered about the artwork. With differences in personal experience, cultural background, philosophy of life, whether is it age, gender or religious view, you are bound to have various perspectives as compared to others. You have already had many predispositions as you approach an artwork, so why not interact with the artwork directly and find your own special enjoyment before adding more preconceptions?

Attention: stay tuned for Round 2 of “Crazy Count”, where it will reveal how many visitors would say ‘Hello’ or ‘Goodbye’ to the exhibition receptionist!

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