Interview with Tim Reeve, Deputy Director of the V&A
Interviewed and text by x 採訪及撰文 Li Bowen 李博文
Edited by x 編輯 Michelle Yu 余小悅 Nicolas Anderson 尼古拉斯·安德森
China Merchants Shekou Holdings (CMSK), in association with founding partner the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), has announced the brand—DESIGN SOCIETY 「设计互联」— a new cultural hub that will be located in the Shekou Sea World Culture and Arts Center. DESIGN SOCIETY will comprise a design museum, within which the V&A Gallery will be located, a theatre, a multi-purpose hall, Shenzhen Guanfu Museum, and a learning and public event programme.
Tim Reeve, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the V&A, spoke to ART.ZIP about the collaboration.
中國招商蛇口與英國國立維多利亞與阿爾伯特博物館（Victoria & Albert Museum） 共同創辦了全新的文化中心「設計互聯」，將座落於2017年建成的蛇口海上世界文化藝術中心。「設計互聯」文化中心將由設計博物館、劇院、多功能展廳、深圳觀復博物館以及學習與公共項目部組成，而即將落成的設計博物館內亦會成立特別的V&A展廳。
ART.ZIP: How would you describe your relationship between the V&A museum and the Sea World Arts and Culture Centre?
TR: It feels to me like a real partnership, of course, there is a contractual and formal basis to it, but it feels over the last four years that we have grown up with our colleagues at China Merchants Group (CMG) and spent a lot of time getting to know each other both in London and there. It feels like a genuine collaboration.
ART.ZIP: From the press release it seems that the V&A is on the giving side and Shenzhen is on the receiving side, is that a fair way to put it?
TR: I wouldn’t describe it that way. Certainly, we were invited to become involved, as we have a certain amount of knowledge and experience of museums, of collecting and of presenting collections to the public, and obviously we are a design museum, but it feels like much more of an equal relationship. I feel like we are learning as an institution, we are learning from China Merchants as much as they are learning from us. One of the exciting things of being involved in this collaboration is that it is not a traditional museum-to-museum collaboration. It is a different business culture, and I think we are learning from that in a very positive way. When you talk about museology and get down to museum and gallery concepts, we are the provider or the developer of content, but we are doing that also in collaboration. We have spent a great deal of time over the past four years getting to know the local community and the local design community because that is how we will put together a really great V&A gallery. We want it to respond to something that is already here, rather than something that simply lands from London in Shenzhen, so I don’t think it is giving and receiving, it feels like a much more two-way process to me.
ART.ZIP: What do you mean by a traditional museum-to-museum collaboration?
TR: Typically this is loaning work from one to another, between two very established museums. Most of those relationships are very well honed, lots of give and take, and it’s part of global museum culture that you give a loan if you can, you don’t say no unless you really have to. This is different because the museum doesn’t yet exist, it is still an idea.
ART.ZIP: For the V&A museum this is the first of this kind, a new intimate museum collaboration. Correct?
TR: I think that it is the very first one of this kind and the relationship between CMG and the state is slightly different to what it might be in the UK, but it feels like a public sector cultural institution in the UK doing business with a Chinese commercial company. That is very interesting for us, because increasingly museums in the UK and in Europe have to run themselves in a more business-like way. The culture, or the long term plan, is not so dissimilar between a museum and a business. Obviously, working museums are not always known to be the fastest moving of institutions, so working with a business that is more fleet of foot is a nice exercise to be involved in. The other thing that is distinctive, is that it is a relatively short collaboration, initially of five years. It will be intensive and hopefully both sides will get a great deal out of it in a short period of time. It is distinct from the Guggenheim model, where the collaboration is defined in bricks and mortar with a new museum being constructed and branded by a well-known American or UK institution. We like the fact that this is quite dynamic, it might extend, but if it doesn’t, it is a very short sharp collaboration. I think there is less risk involved for both sides but at the same time, you can get an impact much more quickly, you aren’t waiting for the museum to open its doors in five years’ time. The process leading up to the museum opening is almost as important as what happens after the doors open to the public. It is a pilot for us, a trial for us, so far it has been a great experience and we look forward to seeing how the next couple of years go.
ART.ZIP: Is it possible that after five years, both parties will choose to continue?
TR: Yes I think it is perfectly possible, if we feel there is more to do, if there are new opportunities to explore, we are definitely open to that. But if everything we set out to achieve, and everything China Merchants set out to achieve, has been achieved, then that is okay too.
ART.ZIP: What took so long to come up with this sort of collaboration?
TR: That is an interesting question, I don’t know, I think museums historically, maybe museum directors, maybe museum culture, have been about big concrete structures and collections. They have defined overseas activity in quite a traditional and quite a binary way. I think that the way that museums are funded and how they have to be more competitive, more responsive, and are having to be more business-like has almost forced, or has provided, the conditions for this sort of collaboration. It seems like much more of a fluid model to me, it seems much more appropriate to me. At the moment you either invest in a loan or exhibition that goes from X museum to Y museum, or you invest for a hundred years, but nothing in between. The great thing for us is that you are putting down roots to an extent, but it is time limited and I think it is a nice counterpoint between the two.
ART.ZIP: Other museums like the Tate, MoMA or Centre Pompidou, are seemingly taking in a great deal of Chinese money. It seems that this sort of collaboration has become rather trendy in recent years and it seems what the V&A is doing is very timely.
TR: For us is not a fad or a trend, our relationship goes back to the very beginning of the V&A. I think the opportunity is greater now, the conditions are there for these sorts of collaborations to bear fruit, but we have been working in China since day one of the V&A’s life. Some of earliest collections are from China, we were the first museum to collect in China, this wasn’t random but instead a process of very well considered collecting, and we have had relationships with major Chinese museums for decades. It is less a fad or a trend for us, but I think the conditions are there in both countries for this kind of collaboration to come about. For any museum, I think it would be strange to not take advantage of any opportunity to put your ideas and your collections in front of 1.3billion people. Every museum is about access, the people and the public. Our mission is no different from most other museums, to take our collections to as many people as we can. That is the main driver for us being here, it is a new audience for us to talk to and share our ideas with.
ART.ZIP: 包括泰特美術館（Tate），紐約現代藝術博物館（MoMA）及蓬皮杜中心（Centre Pompidou）在內的許多博物館機構都在尋求來自中國的資金支持。這看起來似乎是一件時髦的事，而V&A也在這一段時間進行著類似的活動。
ART.ZIP: Are the details of the upcoming touring exhibitions confirmed yet?
TR: They are still under discussion, so we are not able to confirm yet. It won’t be too long until we can announce them but they will be great, whatever we end up doing will be great. Our touring exhibitions and exhibitions at South Kensington are some of the greatest in the world. I think you will be very pleased with what we send.
ART.ZIP: What sort of touring are we talking about here, touring between the two museums or other museums as well?
TR: That is another discussion in due course, but we have a very big touring program, we take exhibitions from South Kensington around the world, typically going to a dozen venues each year. At the moment we have David Bowie exhibition on tour, in its third or fourth year. Lots of exhibitions are travelling around the world, but who knows, in due course, an exhibition generated here in the Shekou design museum coming to the V&A in five or ten years’ time is not out of the question, some of the objects from the Shenzhen Biennale will come to the V&A as part of the London Design Festival this year.
TR: 這也仍然在討論之中，但V&A有一系列非常龐大的巡回展覽項目，我們將倫敦南肯辛頓V&A博物館的展覽帶至全世界進行巡回展覽，一般每年會巡回至十幾個博物館。V&A的大衛·鮑伊(David Bowie)展覽目前正在世界範圍內進行巡回展覽。但是誰知道呢，在未來五至十年內，在蛇口舉辦的展覽也很有可能來到倫敦V&A進行巡回展覽。今年在深港城市/建築雙城雙年展（Bi-city biennale of urbanism/architecture, UABB）中我們策劃的「無名的設計行為（Unidentified Acts of Design）」中的某些展品就被帶到倫敦設計節展出。
ART.ZIP: For such a collaboration of this scale and distance, the digital will have to play an important role. You have a very well-known digital archive that is open to the public, is there anything digital planned specifically for this gallery in Shenzhen?
TR: Hand in hand with this gallery concept itself will be the digital manifestation of it and how we communicate it. I don’t know the detail of it yet, but it will be a big part of it, we don’t want the gallery to be a something you can only interact or engage with if you come here, we want it to become something successful virtually as well.
ART.ZIP: Is there a Chinese translation of your digital archive?
TR: We have a Chinese language version of the website, but it didn’t cover the “Search the Collections” digital archive. I think that would be a wonderful thing, even if the relationship doesn’t go on formally beyond five years. We want our relationship with China to keep on growing and to use this as a sort of platform, digital products of one sort or another will be part of that.
ART.ZIP: In your personal opinion, how do you like the design of Shenzhen or China?
TR: For me, it is an assault on the senses, there is so much to take in, all five senses. For an outsider, Chinese design is always colourful, bold, and dynamic. I think that is what makes a lot of European audiences respond to it. However a lot of what the European audience understands is still through the casing of an iPhone, that is still a beautiful thing, but there is much more to Chinese design now. I think people in the west are mesmerised by the acceleration in creativity in this part of China. For the V&A, it mirrors a journey that went on in its early days, a similar transition from manufacturing to design. We were falling behind the rest of the world in terms of quality of design, and indeed manufacturing, the great exposition and the V&A was born out of the idea to rebuild momentum. In a way that feels similar to what is happening in Shenzhen. It is very powerful to observe as an outsider and to see it happening so quickly.
ART.ZIP: Already released is a list of very interesting designs such as the Seeeduino, that will be on view. Is it an exhibition, a debut show, or a permanent collection that you will change annually?
TR: It is somewhere between an exhibition and a permanent collection, we call it the semi-permanent V&A Gallery. It will almost exclusively be V&A objects telling a story of 20th and 21st century international design but through or related to what has happened in terms of Chinese design. It is not a story of what is happening everywhere else, but it is linked to what is happening there. It is about value driven design and the values that drive good design. Even though it is 20th and 21st century there will be historical objects that are that are carefully selected to provide context for the gallery. It will be here for up to two years and then it might move on to somewhere else.
ART.ZIP: Whose semi-permanent collection is this? The V&A’s?
TR: Yes it is something our partners are very keen on, right from the word go, to use this as an opportunity to bring V&A objects to audiences around Shenzhen. Some of the objects are already in the V&A collection and some we are acquiring as we go along. We want to select things that will build a really strong narrative.
ART.ZIP: How much is the Asian department of the V&A museum is involved in this project?
TR: They are very heavily involved. One of the things that was important to us, and very important to China Merchants, was the secondment of one of our very talented Asia curators, Luisa Mengoni. She is based in Shekou, she is a China expert, and she studied in China and speaks Mandarin. That link which is very deep and very real is absolutely crucial. In fact, it couldn’t happen without it. If we couldn’t effect that secondment, it would have been very difficult. It is what gives it the knowledge and curatorial credibility. Luisa is the head of the V&A gallery working with the new, very talented, V&A curator Brendan Cormier. It is the perfect combination.
TR: 是的，他們積極地參與了此次合作計劃。對於我們及招商蛇口來說都非常重要的是，富有才華的亞洲策展人、熟悉中國文化的孟露夏（Luisa E. Mengoni）現常駐蛇口工作。她曾在中國留學，中文流利。她扮演著非常重要的溝通聯繫的角色。事實上，沒有她作為V&A的代表在中國進行工作，我們可能無法這麽順利地開展這項合作。調配她到深圳工作，確保了這次合作計劃中知識交流及策展質量。孟露夏是V&A展館的項目負責人，與她合作的是V&A新晉策展人柯鹿鳴（Brendan Cormier）。他們二人是完美的組合。
ART.ZIP: The V&A is keen on educating the public and professionals here in China. I think that the V&A has always been more open than other museums in the world. Could you talk about what you anticipate or expect from the Chinese public?
TR: What we want from the Chinese public is challenge and engagement. We have been provoking and encouraging that relationship with the public and creative communities in China for the last two or three years. That relationship will inform what we put on here, but when we open we then want challenge, this is not the finished article. If we get the gallery right, it will provoke debate and discussion, we have chosen seven key values—performance, cost, problem solving, materials, identity, communication and wonder—that we think drive design and the design process, we wouldn’t say that they are the only seven, but we want to provoke a discussion around that, for people to tell us why they would have chosen different values that they think are important. We want to see a reaction, we don’t want this to be a passive experience for the visitor, not that we want everyone to come in and criticise it, but we want people to react to it and interact with it. The learning programs that we are putting together as part of our relationship here, over and above the V&A gallery, are an important way of prompting interaction with the V&A, with ideas at a more introductory level. It doesn’t really suit us, doesn’t give us the impact we are after if we just bring content, it lands and then it goes. It has to create something, a new idea or a new view, some sort of outcome. The outcome we are hoping for is that it will make people think, react, respond and then take away thoughts and ideas that they then use in their daily lives. Whether they are a designer, in the creative industries or just an interested member of society, we hope that they will take away something that they can use.
ART.ZIP: How will the V&A’s work here be evaluated?
TR: We want to leave a lasting footprint for the V&A as well. We want to be generous and provide a platform for debate and for new ideas to come about, but we also want people to come to know the V&A, to know about the idea and the collection. In a very practical way, we want to see more people in China coming to see the V&A or V&A exhibitions around the world. We also want them to see the V&A online and get to know us, if they don’t already.
Find out more:
Unidentified Acts of Design 無名的設計行為
15 September – 30 November 2016
Gallery 44, The T. T. Tsui Gallery
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL