“How can a website provide a curatorial platform for a museum in progress?” Zak Group, commissioned to design M+ Stories four years in advance of the opening of M+, the museum of visual culture in Hong Kong, are doing just that .
M+ will be one of the world’s largest museums of modern and contemporary visual culture, and while its physical construction progresses – towards its opening in 2019 – Zak Group, with the museum’s digital and curatorial teams, has created an online platform that opens the nascent museum’s content and collection to the world.
Although the West Kowloon museum building – designed by Herzog & de Meuron – is still in progress, M+ has been operating a satellite programme since 2012, hosting exhibitions, screenings and events around Hong Kong, and more recently at the M+ Pavilion. Drawing upon this programme and conservation efforts, as well as new journal and video features, for M+, Stories is a place for experimentation; in terms of editorial approach, as well as testing its bilingual workflows, institutional identity, accessibility, tagging and categorisation systems.
The site includes an interactive online exhibition on Hong Kong’s neon signs; features on “smallness” in Hong Kong art and the propaganda manuals of Mao-Era China; a video on the impact of plastics in Hong Kong, and an animation by Wong Ping on absurdity, among many other themes, ideas and works. Approaching the complex web of media, Zak Group developed an associative tag-driven logic to underpin and bring to light the museum’s content and collection. The system groups the site archive in a way that preferences subject over chronology or section, and it’ll inform the broader strategy around tagging taxonomies and in-gallery experience at M+, once the primary site opens.
Along with tackling the complexity of archiving the various media and works of a museum that doesn’t exactly exist, Zak Group has implemented a host of digital strategies that’ll also go on to define the approach of the institution. Hong Kong is a multi-lingual territory, with both Traditional Chinese and English as official languages, and Zak Group has taken this on as a key consideration in its approach to language and typography – with all text on the single page application translated between English and Chinese extemporaneously, without the need to reload. Hong Kong also has the highest mobile internet usage rate in the Asia Pacific region, per a study published by Google, and referencing this report, the Stories site was designed with mobile user experience in mind. Images load as the user scrolls towards them, and code required for each section of the website is delivered just-in-time.
In its work on Stories, Zak Group has taken on a task that’s complex in a multitude of ways; in terms of language requirements and data; the variety of content and tagging options; and the fact that the museum and its collection is yet to have a fixed location or identity. In taking on such intricacies, Zak Group has embraced not only the assets of M+, but also the potential problems; allowing them to act as a guiding light rather than as a block – embracing the chaos of the unknown and building a structure for an unknown quantity.
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