If you live in Hong Kong, you might have seen the M+ Rover parked in various spots around the city or, if you’re a school student, had it visit your school. If this is the first you hear of it, however, the big, grey, ‘traveling creative studio’ might need some explaining. Luckily, we're here to take you inside the M+ Rover and reveal a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes.
The M+ Rover is essentially a traveling creative studio that serves as a space for exhibitions and can travel around to different parts of Hong Kong. Each year, M+ commissions one or two young local artists to envision a participatory work inside the M+ Rover. As it travels from place to place, students and participants will add to the work in various ways, creating an ever-changing show on display across the city. This year’s tour is the third since M+ Rover’s launch in 2016.
For the 2018 tour, the participating artist is Ng Ka Chun. Ng’s practice is in the spirit of DIY culture, taking existing objects and ideas and reassembling and reusing them. The work Ng has designed for M+ Rover is called Thing Beyond Things and focuses on the relationship between people and objects. He has organised activities that involve participants building, inventing, and playing with new things created from ordinary household objects. Ng believes imagination is the best ‘tool’, and his works are simple yet powerful manifestations of the ways in which he responds to and transforms things. Perhaps Ng’s way of working embodies the idea of ‘the usefulness of uselessness’ posited by the ancient Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi, which suggests transcendence of the functional dimension of objects to create new values and meanings that lie beyond conventional standards.
Let’s see how that plays out behind the scenes in the M+ Rover itself.
What’s inside the M+ Rover trailer?
The M+ Rover was designed by artist Kacey Wong, who intended the cool metal exterior to mimic that of a spaceship. The idea is that, like a space expedition, the M+ Rover lets people explore uncharted territories. In contrast with its grey, metal exterior, however, the inside is warm, lined with wood recycled from discarded pallets and lit up by large incandescent light bulbs. Wong wanted audiences to experience immersion in a cosy nest, resembling—through its curved shape and rib-like planks—the belly of a whale. The Rover’s windows are actually recycled from a real ship.
For each new M+ Rover tour, the participating artist redesigns the inside of the Rover, with just the lightbulbs, walls, and windows remaining the same. For the 2018 tour, participating artist Ng Ka Chun has set up the Rover with shelves displaying small scale examples of works together with videos showing how they’re used.
In the artist-led activities going on outside, participants are guided to create new objects. These are then added inside the Rover, side-by-side with the artist’s works. When the shelves become full, the artist’s will dismantle some of the creations, putting the materials back into the artist-led activities—letting students recreate and reuse the materials again. It creates a living interior that will evolve and change with each school visit. Photos of their objects and instructions on how to use them are also added to a folder displayed inside the Rover, accumulating students’ ideas as part of the exhibition.
What’s Outside the M+ Rover Trailer?
Once the M+ Rover has arrived and parked at its destination, various works by Ng Ka Chun are displayed outside, such as his Broom Flute, a flute made out of a broom; A Proposal to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, a mobile home made out of a recycling bin; and Four Potted Trees, four potted trees that the artist bought to mourn four stone-wall trees that were cut down on Bonham Road on Hong Kong Island. By examining these examples, you’ll see that Ng’s works are not simply about enhancing and adding more functions to everyday objects. By remaking an object’s form and functions, he gives it new meaning. All of these works are simple yet poignant manifestations of the ways in which the artist responds to and transforms everyday objects.
Outside of the M+ Rover is also where the artist-led activities take place. A circle of ordinary household objects is set up for the first activity, in which each participant picks up one of the objects. Eventually, participants are guided to use their objects and combine and transform them to create a completely new object together. The completed inventions are then stored inside the M+ Rover itself.
The process of creating these activities is a long and complex one. The M+ Learning and Interpretation team develops the concepts and ideas together with the artist. They have to make sure that the resulting work will not only engage students and participants, but can also continuously evolve throughout the M+ Rover tour.
Then, M+ staff members and the artist test out the activities multiple times. During these tests, staff members take part in the activities as if they were secondary school students, try out how well they work, and see how they can improve. (Plus, it’s fun.)
During the M+ Rover tour itself, the M+ staff are in the background: they go with the trailer, set up and take down the activities at each visit, and take care of the behind-the-scenes things that you might not notice. Assistant Curator Joego Chan describes the process: ‘We help manage the helpers on site, and we help manage the logistics: for example, what time you have to get what tools and to what students, what time you have to collect everything from them, and so on. We set up and take down the exhibition, which takes about an hour each time. The artist is free to focus on helping the students create something new.’
All images: M+, Hong Kong (unless otherwise indicated). This article was originally published on M+ Stories.