At a time when impeding funding cuts mean that cultural institutions will be increasingly looking to individual patronage, Cogapp managing director Alex Morrison believes that community building and engagement through digital media is more crucial than ever.
Morrison says, ’The Ai Weiwei installation may be for some of its users the first rung in a long ladder of engagement with Tate. As people climb that ladder, with help from Tate, and get more involved with the organisation, their value as supporters – moral, political, financial, social, practical, and so on – increases.’
Following a three-way pitch in August, Brighton-based Cogapp was tasked with creating a digital element around the installation – unveiled this week – which would build on themes in Ai’s recent work, such as activism through social media and free communication – ideas which have not won him fans within the Chinese government.
Using one of eight Cogapp-designed kiosks located around the Turbine Hall, visitors can communicate directly with Ai, by recording a response to questions posed by the artist or, in turn, asking him a question about the work. Until May 2011, Ai will respond to selected entries, circumventing the Chinese Internet firewall to tweet about the experience throughout.
Cogapp technical director Ben Rubinstein says, ’The design had to be very simple not to distract people from the task at hand, but it had to be beautiful – it is the Tate.’
Using a background image of Ai’s installation and a black, yellow and white palette, the touch-screen kiosk interface features a ’sliding aesthetic’ of tinted panels, the opacity of which demonstrates how far the user is through the process, says Rubinstein. As well as the kiosk interface, Cogapp has created a website – www.tate.org.uk/go/aww – where users can see questions left for Ai and his responses. The site includes features inspired by popular social media sites/ visitors can rate and recommend videos and Tate Online staff can highlight the most interesting offerings.
Tate Online producer for interactive media Kirstie Beaven says, ’It’s really important that as well as a family of four galleries, the Tate is a global place people can engage with modern art online and in a physical way, and there’s a cross-over in both experiences.’
Last week, Cogapp hosted a seminar in conjunction with Blue State Digital – the consultancy behind Barack Obama’s online presidential campaign – at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts to discuss how cultural institutions could boost their online fundraising.
And although, as Beaven points out, Cogapp’s work for the Turbine Hall installation is not direct online campaigning, the project engages audiences, invites action and helps to build an online community. Beaven says, ’[The digital project] is not traditional marketing but communicating globally, as this exhibition will, is a brand-building process regardless of intent.’
In addition, it seems clear that Tate has pertinently commissioned an artist whose work itself will dramatically increase traffic to its website, inspire users and create an online community along the way.
Speaking about Ai, Morrison says, ’To see somebody using Twitter, a most ephemeral and potentially trivial online application, in a human and quite funny – but also deadly and personally brave – way, is a wake-up call for arts institutions that Twitter’s not just about when you brushed your teeth or got on the Tube, it can have a profound effect.’
Son of poet Ai Qing, who was exiled during the cultural revolution, 53-year-old Ai Weiwei’s work is often politically and culturally charged, including photographing himself smashing a Han Dynasty urn and painting the Coca-Cola logo on a 5000-year-old pot
An activist as well as an artist, Ai courted controversy by collecting and publishing the names of children killed by poorly-constructed school buildings during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, names which the Chinese government allegedly refused to disclose
Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron on the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, for the Beijing Olympics but refused to attend the sporting event, calling it a ’fake smile’ to hide the reality of China
Follow the Twitter conversation between Ai and visitors during the installation by using the hashtag #tateaww