eGovernment art piece, a part of the We=Link online exhibition
Individual exhibits like "eGovernment" explore the idea of the surveillance society. (Image via Instagram)

The ‘We=Link’ Online Art Exhibition Comments on High-Tech Consumer Society

The Chronus Art Center has created a digital art exhibition that feels remarkably prescient.

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eGovernment art piece, a part of the We=Link online exhibition

The Chronus Art Center has created a digital art exhibition that feels remarkably prescient.

Being in isolation, I find myself staring at the same four walls and slowly going insane. As I spend every day in front of the glaring screen of my computer, I’m gradually losing my ability to imagine things other than the doodles on Google’s homepage. Imagination doesn’t seem so important when we’re simply trying to live another day. Still, people dream, and even the intros of our favorite YouTuber’s videos can be a source of creativity. Art takes form in a lot of unexpected places. When the despair from not having the sun kiss my skin in a week was creeping in, I found “We=Link: Ten Easy Pieces.”

“We=Link: Ten Easy Pieces” (2020) is an online exhibition organized by Chronus Art Center in Shanghai, which keeps the imagination alive even in the dark hours of a pandemic. Chronus Art Center is known for their distinctive approach to fine arts by integrating science and technology. Their showcase from the previous year, “Open Codes. Connected Bots,” combined art and computer science, including complex programming, in its creation.

With a virus traveling to all corners of the earth, more people are stuck at home. The art center saw this as an opportunity to relieve the anxiety that people might face. Art can be a temporary remedy. “We=Link: Ten Easy Pieces,” curated by Zhang Ga, is offering a fresh look into our society through 10 unique yet simple pieces.

Sometimes, physical art galleries can be intimidating because they seem like an exclusive club. The high ceilings accompanied by lavish paintings and exquisite sculptures with expensive wine going around may come off as detached from the rest of the world.

“We=Link” is a mobile art gallery stripped of the pomposity that a traditional exhibition might have. Exploring the capabilities of technology, the online showing makes art easily accessible from the tip of your fingers. It contains works that are easily understood by anyone, with or without professional knowledge of fine arts.

To avoid spoiling too much here, I will describe only two of my favorite pieces from the mobile showing.

“Screen Time” by Helmut Smits

The first is “Screen Time” by Helmut Smits. “Screen Time” is an interactive art piece where people can contribute by uploading the screenshot of their lock screens. It’s a community clock with a lock screen per minute. The Dutch artist is widely known for getting his inspiration from everyday situations.

Smits designs art that comes from things he encounters daily. “Screen Time” is one of those pieces. The work is intended to connect people through their mobile phone displays. The design is very simple. The almost outdated two-dimensional display focuses on the pictures of each contributor’s phone. It invites us to look into a stranger’s life, maybe even wonder what they are actually like. It is a great depiction of how our phones often become our personalities.

Each shot could potentially provide a little look at someone’s life, what they look like, the last person they spoke to or even their darkest secrets. But we’re not defined by what’s inside our phones.

Smits’ work also wants us to remember that we’re a part of society, a screenshot in a collage of many lock screens of the community clock. We’re all connected, even when we think we’re not. Especially amid the outbreak, when everyone is haunted by the same virus. We’re more intertwined than ever, and we’re writing history together.

“eGovernment” by Yangachi

The second work is “eGovernment” by Yangachi, which takes the concept of the panopticon and transforms it into an art piece. Yangachi actually first designed “eGovernment” in 2003. It was then remade in 2019 for the “We=Link: Ten Easy Pieces” exhibition. The work of the South Korean artist has always been very critical of different sociopolitical landscapes. Another one of his works, “Yangachi Guild” (2002), is a satirical commentary on the increasingly capitalistic South Korean society.

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#yangachi ⠀ 상하이 Chronus Art Center(CAC)가 주최하는 <We=Link: Ten Easy Pieces>전에 양아치 작가가 참여합니다. 코로나 바이러스로 미술관들이 문을 닫은 상황에서 CAC의 큐레이터 장가는 전세계 미디어아트 기관에 네크워크를 통한 온라인 전시를 제안합니다. 작가 열 명의 작품이 온라인을 통해 보여지는 본 전시는 CAC와 한국의 아트센터나비, 미국 뉴뮤지엄의 라이좀(Rhizome)이 후원하며, 전세계 12개 기관이 협력합니다. ⠀ http://we-link.chronusartcenter.org/ ⠀ Chronus Art Center – We=Link: Ten Easy Pieces We are pleased to announce the opening of a special online exhibition We=Link: Ten Easy Pieces, featuring new commissions by the artists Aaajiao, Tega Brain & Sam Lavigne, JODI, LI Weiyi, Slime Engine, and YE Funa in conjunction with works by Evan Roth, Helmut Smits, Yangachi (@yangachi_says), and Raphaël Bastide. This endeavor was made possible through the generous support of Art Center Nabi (Seoul) (@artcenternabi ); Rhizome of the New Museum (New York) (@rhizomedotorg ); and the concerted efforts by 12 institutions around the world. ⠀ ⠀ #chronusartcenter @chronus_art_center @artcenternabi @rhizomedotorg @artsatcern @hek_basel @imal_brussels @laboratoria_art_science @leonardoisast @mu_hybrid_art_house @setiinstitute @#aaajiao #TegaBrain #SamLavigne #JODI #LIWeiyi #SlimeEngine #YEFuna #EvanRoth #HelmutSmits #Yangachi #RaphaëlBastide #onlineexhibition #barakatcontemporary #양아치 #전자정부 #egovernment #온라인전시

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When opening the page of “eGovernment,” you’re greeted with a Windows 95-esque disclaimer, which asks you to welcome your eGovernment. After that, you’re asked for personal details like your name, hobby, birth date and social security number. The questions are made to get increasingly more personal in order to make you doubt your decision to trust the site. It’s information that we wouldn’t and shouldn’t be giving out easily.

Each page contains a picture of a city or a part of town, like a landscape of skyscrapers along the river or a bustling intersection, all accompanied by a soothing sound. Imagine being in a loud coffee shop with relaxing jazz in one ear and strangers’ audible conversations in another. Now, imagine answering some questions about yourself in that coffee shop. That’s exactly how it feels being in the eGovernment site.

What makes it really distinctive is that “eGovernment” is not just a drawing of a landscape or a sculpture of a beautiful creature. It’s digital artwork that encourages us to think about the issue of surveillance. In its efforts to trace the spread of the virus, the South Korean government has launched an app that could track people who are supposed to be in quarantine. Some people have claimed that, in this urgent time, it is better to sacrifice privacy for the safety of the greater good.

Surveillance is everywhere, not just from governments. Just like the initial muse, the idea of the panopticon, “eGovernment” displays how we’re giving all of this information away willingly, without knowing what’s on the other side and how that data is being used.

“We=Link: Ten Easy Pieces” is not merely an accessible art exhibition that will alleviate the frustration of being in the middle of a pandemic. It also provides a unique look into our society in a format that the younger generation knows best — 10 digital works of art that interact with its audiences. It has the two main purposes of art: It boosts your imagination and encourages you to ponder the bigger social implications.

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