Dicky Yeung, Assistant Curator, Learning and Interpretation, answers five questions about his job at M+!
What brought you to M+?
I was an intern for The Infinite Nothing, Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-Wah’s 2015 solo show at the 56th Venice Biennale, co-organised by M+ and Hong Kong Arts Development Council. At the time, I had just quit my job in a local secondary school and thought that no job in the world would suit me. I studied creative media in university, and wanted to work with art and creativity, as well as to build relationships with and among people. I didn’t realise that the job of museum curator could actually be about caring for people—in my mind, this role was mysterious. I likened being a curator to being almost like a PR person, marketing and interacting with the press.
On one of the nights in Venice, Stella Fong, our Lead Curator of Learning and Interpretation and the co-curator of Tsang Kin-Wah’s exhibition, visited me and my intern partner. We had a memorable talk with her. She shared how she collaborates with people as part of her job and spoke very passionately about trust and relationships with artists and audiences. Through her stories, I realised that, in her job, people are always the priority. It really moved me and changed my perceptions of working in a museum.
I didn't expect, however, to become part of the M+ team and participate in all chapters of M+ Rover. This project has nurtured my growth and given me an invaluable beginning in my museum career.
Describe a typical day for you.
I don't have a typical day because every day is uncertain!
My main duties are to work with learning programmes involving schools and teachers. M+ Rover, our first major school outreach programme, has been an important part of my work. M+ Rover is a creative studio that has travelled around to different schools in Hong Kong since 2016. Each year, M+ commissions one or two local creative practitioners to design a participatory work inside this customised trailer. As it travels, students add to the work in various ways, creating an ever-changing exhibition.
Every school is a unique setting, and we have to deal with it case by case. During the M+ Rover period, I sometimes feel like a fireman. Whenever I get a call, I know that there’s some sort of fire I have to put out, whether that involves surprise parking violations, narrow corridors, or inclement weather.
What’s a moment at M+ that you’ll always remember?
The beauty of M+ Rover is that the space allows audiences, including myself, to engage in unexpected dialogues.
In the second year of the M+ Rover project, I had a conversation with a student participant who told me about how much he loved tattoos. He thought going to school was a waste of time because his only goal was to become a tattoo master. He said his family objected to his dream, and whispered in secret that he had a tattoo on his back. He kept insisting that if he had already left school to learn tattooing, he would have become a master already—’Why should I stay in school for biology and history?’
I told him that becoming a tattoo artist is more than being a craftsman, more than putting graphics onto one’s skin: it involves giving a piece of himself, his unique perspective as an artist and individual. The only way to achieve a unique perspective is to cultivate your artistry out of the knowledge you learn in school.
During the workshop, the artist, Rainbow Leung, drew portraits for selected students while she interviewed them about themselves and their lives. The boy I had spoken to was chosen, and he didn’t seem engaged in answering the questions. However, when she asked him if there was anyone in the world that he would like to thank, it was to my utmost surprise that he said my name! Rainbow drew my face on his portrait and invited him to draw something for me, and he drew a heart around my face. It was very heartwarming. I didn't expect my words to be so important to him. We had only known each other for a few hours.
Choose a work or object from the M+ Collections that you like or feel inspired by.
Fermentation Of The Mind by Heri Dono represents a highly-controlled society in which people are told what to do and how to behave. The only reaction that the sculptural heads in the work are engineered to give is to nod.
As I often work with school groups at M+, the mechanical action of the mannequins alarms me when I consider how students may receive knowledge in a formal classroom setting, as well as the limitations of each kind of learning platform. It is also a reminder for us, when organising programmes, to explore the differences between formal and non-formal learning environments. This allows our museum to be an open platform for knowledge exchange, as an alternative to formal schooling.
We believe an ideal space for learning should be open to multiple responses by active learners, and that critical thinking should always be encouraged.
Name one thing you don’t think your co-workers know about you…
That I used to work in the film industry. The first commercial film director I worked with was actually Ann Hui. What I learned in the film industry really contributed to my experience at M+.
I learned how to make props and link them to narratives. In the first large-scale independent film I worked on, for a scene with a funeral setting, I learned how to make all of the flowers for the funeral, teaching myself about different kinds of flowers and their meanings. This is similar to how I implemented Tang Kwok Hin’s exhibition in M+ Rover because it's all about setting, props, and story. I already knew how to link those three elements through my work in film.
I worked in the art direction team, and my first art director taught me a lot. He told me that art direction is not just about creating something beautiful. It’s about being invisible—art direction should render a scene believable in order to be brought to life by the actors. Perhaps it’s similar with curators—we are like a mirror. We don't draw attention to our curatorial methods; we reflect the truths of artists without the audience even noticing that we are there.
As told to Ellen Oredsson. This interview has been edited for clarity. Learn more about the M+ Rover 2020 programme. This article was originally published on M+ Stories.