In the second of two articles centred on private art collections and virtual initiatives, we speak to Jacobo Garcia Gil about his collection, Divide by Zero™, the role of technology in bringing art collections to a wider audience, and his belief in the strength of Hong Kong’s art scene.
TEXT: Nicholas Stephens
IMAGES: Courtesy of Divide by Zero™
Hong Kong-based investment banker Jacobo Garcia Gil is another art collector for whom technology is crucial. His collection, Divide by Zero™, is not exclusively focused on Chinese art. Instead, he values artists who address crucial social issues, many of whom are women, such as Hong Kong photographer Stephanie Teng, and American photographer Sam Heydt. He enjoys art’s subjectivity, a stark contrast to the analytical objectivity of banking. Like Sylvain Lévy, technology allows him to embrace the shifts in behaviour from one generation to another.
For Garcia Gil, cost and efficiency are major factors in his embrace of the digital—he does not aim to make a profit, and “putting on physical shows is rather expensive and manually laborious.” On the other hand, technology allows art to be seen without the costs of shipping, insurance or venue. Although there is one physical constraint not easily solved by technology—artwork storage. Unlike the dslcollection, which is limited to 350 pieces, Garcia Gil jovially admits to the compulsiveness of his collecting. His house is being renovated to provide more art storage, but his temporary accommodation is already heaving with new purchases.
He curates shows on two platforms. The first was designed in partnership with Canada-based start-up Art Gate VR, harnessing “game-engine” technology to allow people to move around and interact in a virtual space. In April 2020, the opening show “Shaped By: Thirty Years Within Four Walls” attracted some 1,000 people to its live opening on Facebook’s Oculus VR platform. The second, designed by architecture and design studio Redfish Team, features a museum on an island with a simpler approach to navigation. Charmingly, the virtual space is embedded with characteristics of Hong Kong—a crumbling-looking walk-up apartment typical of the city, complete with an orange trash can outside. Audience research has indicated that the first of these appeals to a 25–35-year-old demographic, while the second mainly caters to those 35 and older. Exhibitions—including “So, Let’s Talk About Millennials”, which was initially aired in September 2020—are shown simultaneously in both spaces, thereby reaching two different audiences.
In his approach to collecting, Garcia Gil researches each artist conscientiously, looking for clues in their education and background to how they may see the world. He often forms friendships with them, a process more easily executed in physical proximity rather than online. COVID-19-related travel restrictions have been a limiting factor for him. However, he believes he is in the right city. He is a passionate believer in the strength of Hong Kong’s artists, and believes that its evolving artistic scene and its political tensions make it a place analogous to the creative forces of Berlin in the 1980s.
He is a particular admirer of the work of Hong Kong artist Mak Ying Tung 2, by whom he owns four works. He sees her Relic (Nokia) (2018), which places the cell phone at the centre of the painting as being prescient in the dominance of this form of technology in our lives. Another painting, Home Sweet Home: 1,2,3,(4) Cheese (2020), began by her asking several artists via Taobao to paint a section of a scene from The Sims 4 computer game, which each artist did in his own style and colour scheme, creating a jarring juxtaposition when the pieces were united next to each other. A prized piece in his collection, it serves to remind us of how technology is on a collision course with individuality and self-expression.
Garcia Gil is currently researching his next exhibition, which will be about the post-Internet era—a time when the Internet is no longer a utility, but begins governing our lives. His embrace of technology in collecting does not preclude some scepticism and a critical stance on technology’s impact on our mental health. Socially engaged and fascinated by global trends which threaten or enhance our way of life, Garcia Gil notes the rising uniformity and standardisation in the world, and the increase in anxieties linked to the psychological pressures of social media.
While the role of technology in art collecting represents an exciting new frontier, the change in our lives is a source of artistic inspiration to many. In the same manner the car entered the 20th century as the hero and left it as the villain, the shifting role of technology will represent a subject of evolving artistic scrutiny.
About Divide by Zero™
Jacobo Garcia Gil has been actively collecting art since 2012, establishing Divide by Zero™ in 2018. He has built a diverse collection of close to 70 visual works by both established and newly emerging artists globally. There is a specific focus on contemporary paintings that examine the current socio-cultural climate. He describes the collection’s purpose as being “to serve as a curatorial means to support artists even further.” Born and raised in Colombia, Garcia Gil has built his career in investment banking. He relocated from Peru to Singapore in the early 2000s, and has lived in Asia ever since. In 2008, he made Hong Kong his home, and established the collection therein.