Every stage has a backstage. For Samson Young: Songs for Disaster Relief World Tour, the latest exhibition at the M+ Pavilion, that backstage is M+ Essential Editions, the first-ever M+ pop-up shop. Below, Ikko Yokoyama, M+ Curator, Design & Architecture, tells the story of how the shop was conceived, designed, and created.
Ikko Yokoyama: M+ Essential Editions is the first M+ pop-up shop, and it’s also a trial for what our future museum products might look like. It’s an experimental platform.
With it, we want to take a fresh look at the meaning of consumer culture: of buying, making, and selling objects. We had many discussions around how we could do this. Consumer culture is so broad nowadays—for example, we can consider sustainability and ethical production, or one-of-a-kind products, or intangible items in digital form. There are many aspects to think about. We want to question and experiment with what the unique cultural retail experience for the future museum will be and how it will complement Hong Kong's retail culture. Starting with a small pop-up lets us question all those aspects and learn how to make things, how to distribute things, and see what our audiences would like to buy.
We were lucky to be able to work with Samson on this first Essential Editions project, because he has a great sense of materiality and colours, and is very detail-oriented, which is important in product development. He could help connect his fictional world and the retail world without losing the artistic quality and concept. Another important aspect of the product development was the collaboration with Studio Hato in creating special graphic design, colour scheme, tone and atmosphere. And finally, the fabulous pop-up shop design was developed by Aron Tsang from napp studio, based on our ideas.
We had a lot of different ideas for Essential Editions, but we knew from the start that our focus must be collaboration with artists. So we took the opportunity to work with Samson Young for his exhibition at M+ Pavilion, and decided to create products that were inspired by the wider story of the exhibition itself. The process was a little unusual compared to regular product development, in that we started with an artist studio visit. Samson told us about the concept of show, and we responded to it, interpreted the story, and discussed possible scenarios and products.
Considering the fact that the exhibition conjures up different musical settings, such as a cinema, musical theater, and a recording studio, with the story of a fictional performer running through them, the whole exhibition can be interpreted as a stage. It made sense for us then to turn the pop-up store into a green room or dressing room. Not only does it fit with the storyline of the fictional performer, but we also wanted it to correspond with the physical space of the ground floor of the M+ Pavilion—just like a green room is where performers go before and after they go on stage, the shop is the first thing that greets visitors on the ground floor before they go up to the exhibition.
Samson told us that the green room had to look like it was from the 1980s. We were inspired by reference images of typical theatre green rooms, filled with fan letters and flowers, in creating some of the little touches in the shop. The visual merchandiser found vintage 1980s postcards that we put up on the mirror. Our staff members then wrote ‘fan letters’ to Boomtown Gundane on them. We also put some post-it notes on the mirror as reminders and notes for the fictional performer. The exhibition is very clean in its aesthetics, so we made the backstage/shop a bit more real and messy, just like a backstage area is supposed to be. It’s still a fictional world, but in a different way.
From there, we thought, what things should exist in a green room? Using this line of thinking, we developed four separate products.
The ‘Do No Harm’ Jacket
The ‘Do No Harm’ jacket, which is a replica of the jacket displayed as part of an installation in the exhibition itself, was a given. It comes in a limited edition of sixty and is made of fine quality jacquard woven wool fabric, with the words ‘Do No Harm’ (the exhibition’s fictional character Boomtown Gundane’s personal motto) knitted all across it. It also fits in a green room setting as performers will always keep their stage clothes in the green room backstage. Notice the detail of the swing tag, which is oversized and designed like theatre production tag.
The next product is the screensaver, stored inside a USB in a 3D-printed plastic cowboy head, which is in turn stored inside of an exclusively designed hatbox. It comes in a limited edition of 100, with each printed cowboy head hand-coloured by Samson and accompanied by a card signed by him.
The screensaver is an animation of a boy miming shooting a gun, accompanied by an elevator music-style composition. An animation with the same figure can be seen in the work Palazzo Gundane (homage to the myth-maker who fell to earth) in the exhibition. The 3D printed cowboy head can also be found inside the exhibition, on top of Carillon, the self-playing piano.
Although this product includes a small sculpture and an animation, we kept the sense of ‘product’ by emphasising the function above all else. M+ Essential Editions is not about making affordable art works, but about making products with the artist. This is an important distinction for us.
The Cassette Tape
Then there’s the cassette tape, styled like the kind of 1980s demo tape one might find in a musician’s green room. It’s actually a functioning 8-GB USB drive. It also contains another secret: inside it are two files of previously unreleased tracks composed by Samson.
Finally, there are the lapel pins, which are like typical merchandise for a concert tour. Some of these pins were originally made for the Venice Biennale exhibition as staff badges. They weren’t for sale, but a lot of people asked to buy one, so we thought we’d make them available, with two new designs. We found a trustworthy and experienced manufacturer in Taiwan who was able to produce high-quality enamel.
The pins come in four different shapes: first, the Pythagoras head from the 3D printed sculpture in the work Palazzo Gundane (homage to the myth-maker who fell to earth), one of the most recognisable motifs from the show. Then, there’s the bugle, also part of the Palazzo Gundane sculpture.
The green face is Ronald Reagan. As a key figure of neoliberalism which emerged in the late 1980s, the time period that the exhibition centers on, the figure of Reagan is one of the ways that Samson ties the charity song theme to wider political currents of the time. Finally, there’s the cowboy hat, with the cowboy being another recurring motif throughout the exhibition. The exhibition’s fictional character, Boomtown Gundane, is obsessed with Tom Mix, an actor in Hollywood’s early Westerns. Tom Mix heavily influenced Ronald Reagan, who also played a lot of cowboy characters in his movies.
Samson layered the pins on postcards with images chosen from the exhibition catalogue. If you look very carefully, one of the postcards includes Samson’s mother’s old ID card. The real card is displayed in Carillon, the self-playing piano, and flaps around when the piano plays.
The M+ Essential Editions will continue on a periodic basis. We also want to keep experimenting—this time, we made the products one way, but maybe next time it will be completely different. And this was really a trial, so it would of course be great to get feedback!
All images: M+, Hong Kong (unless otherwise indicated). This article was originally published on M+ Stories.
Ikko Yokoyama is Curator, Design and Architecture at M+.