Telum Talks To... Cusson Cheng, Art Editor, Art and Piece
Big congratulations to Art and Piece for becoming Art Basel Hong Kong's only homegrown Chinese-language media partner. How did you strike the deal?
It is truly beyond our imagination that Art and Piece is now officially the only homegrown Chinese-language media partner of Art Basel Hong Kong. If you look back at the art fair’s previous editions, it is not difficult to notice that most, if not all, of its media partners, are international publications or English-language media outlets. This milestone is a testament to our determination to be a leading player in both the publishing and art industry. It also goes to show that Hong Kong is not just all about cultural consumption. We do have high-quality cultural production that deserves both local and international recognition.
At Art and Piece, we aim to revolutionise artistic visions and to discover and open up creative potential. This year, the fair operates across digital and physical platforms in a new scale and format, featuring 56 satellite booths by the galleries who could not physically attend and the new ‘Art Basel Live: Hong Kong' initiative to broadcast the show to a global audience. To complement the art fair’s innovative operation, we have curated extensive and ambitious features both on our online platforms and in print, including artist interviews, gallerist interviews, editor’s selection, and many more. We will provide exceptional insights through these selected stories and introduce to our readers the local and international artists who are the hidden gems in the contemporary art scene. Our readers come from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia.
It is often said that traditional print media are facing enormous challenges. However, since the magazine’s inception a year ago, it has generated huge interest, with copies sold out quickly. What was the trick?
First of all, I must thank everyone who has been supporting us since the beginning. When the print magazine made its debut in September 2020, we did not expect an overwhelming response. People always say that the ‘Golden Era ’of print publishing is long gone and that only digital-driven media can survive in this hyper virtual society. However, I believe this is exactly why our periodical is so ‘special’. A print magazine is a representation and a condensation of contemporary culture. It is different from digital and online media. There is a certain weight that comes with holding the magazine in your hand — the weight of a crystallised version of events, moments, and cultural fragments. Therefore, in a way, a print magazine like Art and Piece has become such a rarity that it is no longer merely a publication. It has become a collection item that acts like an archive that records the cultural loci of our times. That is also why we have multiple covers in every issue; we want our readers to have an enjoyable collective experience.
Another reason is that we do not position ourselves as a lifestyle or cultural magazine. Instead, we are more of an art-driven or even aesthetic-driven periodical. The reason why our name is Art and Piece (美紙) is that we believe every ‘piece ’(紙作量詞) of work we write about on paper (紙作名詞) – one that is related to ‘art forms’ - is a representation of, and contribution to the study of ‘aesthetics’(美學). Therefore, from art, cinema and design to architecture and fashion, we would like to present these works of art that create the aesthetics of our everyday life (日常美學) to our readers. I believe it is exactly the element that allows the public to engage and connect with us.
People say Hong Kong is a cultural desert with limited space for artistic development. In your opinion, what are the key editorial elements for running a sustainable art and culture publication?
The first thing that comes to my mind is the word ‘perspective’. In my opinion, a piece of good feature has to show that the editor is comprehending, reasoning, commenting, or critiquing an artistic and cultural topic through a specific pair of lenses. It is of paramount importance in art and culture media publications. As art or culture editors, we decipher the unknown and articulate the gaps in-between; without perspective, we will not be able to see and write with a mind of clarity.
The other element is ‘synergy’. In the art industry, we work closely with different stakeholders such as art galleries, museums, organisations, artists, curators, and collectors. There is high demand for media support from these players, and that is why we need to know their unmet needs, but at the same time not forget the ultimate goal of this symbiotic relationship - to promote the local art scene to global audiences, and introduce high quality international industry trends to our local readership. In this connection, the relationship between media publications and other industry stakeholders is not reactionary but organic.
How should PRs work with you to create a win-win situation? How do you prefer to be contacted?
I am not going to lie - I am proactive when it comes to choosing interviewees and feature angles. My job is to introduce artists and activities in the international art scene to our readers, and this should be done in a light-hearted but critique manner. To get my attention, I believe the key is to demonstrate the niche and how the pitch can bring new perspectives to our understanding of art. I prefer to be contacted via email if PRs would like to reach out, send pitches, or get to know how our periodical works. However, if you want to hang out for a coffee, you can always message me, and I am just a text away!