ifa: How did your institution cope during the crisis and how has it managed since then? How has the current situation changed the work of your museum and its conception of itself?
Lu Yangli: Design Society was closed from January 24th until March 24th. The pandemic situation certainly changed the way we work. Most of our regular meetings – as well as smaller group discussions – moved online. Compared to the pre-Corona times, I noticed that I was actually much busier than before, since all kinds of analogue communications now had to take place online and the number of meetings increased tremendously.
As for our exhibitions and education programs, Design Society developed a series of online programs in order to serve our audience while they were staying home. We launched a special column on our WeChat channel called Go Hiking. For each issue, we engaged one designer as a tour guide for an expedition through traditional craftsmanship. For our very first issue, the famous artist studio Pinwu gave us a guide through the the Rong Design Library in Yuhang village by Hangzhou. In the second issue, we introduced the Cheng Tsung Feng Design Studio in Taiwan,
Many international co-operations were severely disrupted by the situation. For example, the exhibition of New Grimm's Fairy Tales that I had planned to work on with the Grimm Brothers Society in Germany could not go ahead, so we had to find other ways to explore the material. Instead of presenting original works of the Grimm Brothers from Germany, we engaged several Chinese artists to create artworks inspired by their stories.
Since reopening, Design Society has conducted daily epidemic prevention and control measures. Before entering the museum premises, all staff and visitors need to present a valid Shenzhen health QR-code, have a body temperature test, and wear a face mask. Social distancing is mandatory across the site.
ifa: How should museums convey and reflect stories, images and narrative patterns?
Lu: Museums tell stories through exhibitions and public education. With the diverse development of exhibition forms, narrative styles are constantly changing. In the 19th century, the labelling and order of works were the main narrative methods, used to deduce the development of history. In the second half of the 20th century, the exhibition changed to a clearer spatial narrative. With the gradual visualization and diversification of media, the exhibition also began to have a theme. At the beginning of the 21st century, with the rapid development of digital technology and social media, more and more attention has been paid to the experience-based exhibition narrative. Today, a successful narrative should bring together curators, museum educators, and combine audiovisual materials, interactive images, games, VR and so on, to transform a single narrative into a personalized, interactive and experiential narrative.
ifa: Do you see your museum as a place of political discourse?
Lu: In China, there are two main types of non-profit museums. One kind is directly managed by the government, which, in a sense, will certainly become a place for political discourse. The other kind, which includes Design Society, is a corporate sponsored non-profit museum. As far as I know, this kind of museum has an independent spirit in its operation and exhibition planning, which is based on art, and does not have much to do with politics.
ifa: How can museums work internationally, post-nationally and responsibly today?
Lu: With intensifying globalization, international cooperation between museums has received more and more attention – and communication and exchange has become more and more frequent. As part of this trend, exhibition cooperation, academic dialogue, and technical exchange will only increase. High-level and high-standard forums with a global vision and a spirit of international development will be integral to museum development – sharing experience in the form of theoretical exploration, research, and practicalities.
Through such exchange and cooperation, institutions can explore a common global language, abandon resting on their own laurels, and enjoy mutual benefits and learning. Such partnerships also allow international museums to present culture in all its diversity, so that citizens of different countries and regions acquire a three-dimensional and in-depth understanding of the art and culture of different nationalities. We should strengthen the exposure and training of museum staff to optimise such cultural interaction and exchange.
At the same time, museums around the world should actively serve the local community – especially in culture and education – and dedicate resources to digital technology to protect cultural heritage and diversity.
ifa: Museums nowadays perform many functions. How would you define what the museum is or should be today?
Lu: A good museum should be an interesting storybook to learn about the past, present, and future of a region or city. It should combine education with culture and leisure – expanding its online offering so that visitors from different regions and countries can see exhibitions, participate in activities, and gain knowledge. In addition, museums should strengthen their cooperation with commercial and other cultural institutions, interacting with different cultural spaces, and making use of the professionalism and influence of museums to help businesses realize their social responsibility.
Lu Yangli is Curator at the Design Society in Shenzhen.
Under the title 'MuseumsNow', ifa asked actors from international museums about their current experiences, challenges and visions – also against the background of the Covid 19 pandemic. The interviews and reports provide an insight into current museum practices and civil society actions of museums worldwide.