As Design Society, the name of a new cultural hub located in Sea World Culture and Arts Centre is announced in Shekou (Shenzhen), the V&A reveals more details of the pioneering collaboration with China Merchants Shekou Holdings (CMSK). The first of its kind between a UK museum and a Chinese partner, the collaboration comprises the provision of professional advice and training to help CMSK establish and develop a world class design museum; the concept, development and design of a V&A Gallery devoted to 20th and 21st century international design; and the presentation of two major touring exhibitions in 2017 and 2018.
The V&A Gallery will consider how values drive design, and how design is valued, from a chandelier that unites nature and lighting technology; a meticulously embellished Christian Dior dress; a Braun transistor radio and portable record player by Dieter Rams; a poster using Zimbabwean bank notes which highlights that hyperinflation had rendered them worth less than the paper they were printed on; to the latest drone technology.
The highly diverse selection of objects in the gallery will be drawn from the V&A’s major collections including fashion, photography, furniture, product and graphic design, theatre and performance. In addition to 20th and 21st century objects, which represent the majority of the items on display, the V&A Gallery will also include several examples from earlier historical periods and different geographical areas, in order to explore and position design values within a much wider historical and cultural framework. Examples include an astrolabe dating from 1650-1800 in Iran, which illustrates early advances in multi-functional design, an Egyptian water filter made in 900-1200 which shows design for an environmental context, and a 17th century pocket watch documenting an early form of miniaturisation of design. They will be complemented by a number of new acquisitions of contemporary design collected especially for the gallery.
Seven themes will provide the framework of the gallery narrative, each representing broad value statements that have been made in the past about design: performance, cost, problem solving, materials, identity, communication and wonder.
Tim Reeve, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the V&A said: “The V&A has a long history of working with China, and this project is enabling us to connect with the fast moving design, manufacturing and creative scene here in Shenzhen, as well as sharing our collections, knowledge and expertise in one of the most energetic and progressive cities in the world. We support the objectives of Design Society to use the power of design to address major issues of our time and elevate the role of design in society.”
"The launch of Design Society is a great opportunity to celebrate the result of the very productive dialogue we have had with our colleagues at CMSK over the past two years. This pioneering collaboration between a UK museum and a Chinese partner is part of a new approach to our international engagement strategy. We are looking to develop new longer-term international collaborations, which enable us to engage in more creative ways, by building a global network of trusted partners with whom we can share the idea of the V&A by creating new culturally meaningful projects which we could not do alone.”
The V&A has been developing networks with local creative communities and professionals in order to inform the research and curatorial approach of the new gallery and its public programme. The V&A team has been exploring the unique design and creative practices in the city, including innovative models in technology, digital platforms, and in the wider manufacturing system of Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta, the area generally known as 'The Factory of the World' and now developing into a hub of further economic growth and innovation.
The V&A presented selected case studies from its wider ongoing research at the 2015 Urbanism and Architecture Bi-City Biennale (2015 UABB). Unidentified Acts of Design showed a series of innovative acts of design that have occurred or are emerging outside of the conventional studio context in this area. The case studies that will be displayed in the new V&A Gallery include Seeed, a micro-controller company that offers a platform for makers, inventors and engineers to develop and prototype ideas, and examples of ‘shanzhai’, objects made within the open hardware and electronic manufacturing environment characterising Shenzhen. The research challenged the notion that design in Shenzhen is limited to reproductions with little originality, and aimed to expand and redefine our understanding of design history in the region. The exhibition won the Independent Jury Bronze Dragon Award.
A major part of the partnership between the V&A and China Merchants Shekou Holdings is in providing professional advice and training. Luisa E. Mengoni, Head of the V&A Gallery, has been based in Shenzhen since 2014 as part of a three-year secondment from the V&A, to facilitate its contribution to the project in China. She works closely with the Shekou project team in London. Her role has enabled the V&A to develop a closer dialogue with its partners and the opportunity to develop networks with creative professionals, academics and educators, entrepreneurs and local communities. The collaboration also includes designing a learning programme, curatorial advice to support new acquisitions, training in operational procedures across the Museum including conservation, branding and marketing, human resources and project management.