Cover "Muted Situations #22: Muted Tchaikovsky’s 5th" (2018)—a video work by Hong Kong artist Samson Young. (Image: Courtesy of the artist)

Silke Schmickl, lead curator of moving image at M+, explains why it’s so important that the museum is collecting films, video art, GIFs and more

At Hong Kong’s new M+ museum, which is opening to the public on November 12, visitors can not only marvel at sculptures, drawings and paintings—they can also watch clips by legendary local film directors such as Wong Kar-wai, Ann Hui and Johnnie To. 

M+ has enshrined moving images—a category that encompasses films, documentaries, GIFs, animations and more—as one of its core focuses, alongside visual art, architecture and design. 

Below, Silke Schmickl, lead curator of moving image at M+, explains why it is so important that moving images are shown in the context of the museum, discusses Hong Kong’s rich cinematic history and reveals why the M+ building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is "a dream for any curator". 

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To people who may be unfamiliar with the term, can you please explain in brief what “moving image” means and what works the category encompasses?

The term “moving image” can be understood in a literal sense—every image that moves is of interest to us as a manifestation of visual culture, from high art to popular culture, from early celluloid films shot on 35mm, 16mm or 8mm to analogue and digital video tapes and the pixels of the latest digital technology. While the moving image holdings of the M+ Collection are naturally focused on artist films, video art, experimental cinema, animation, interactive media art, we also have a great interest in documentaries, essay films, feature-length classics, music videos, advertising clips, GIFs and other hybrid genres that express the culture of a certain place at a given time.

The number of moving images produced every day is huge and their massive circulation on the world wide web is unprecedented. Due to this explosion of content through new digital production and distribution modi, it becomes harder for any institution to cohesively write the history of, let’s say, video art or experimental cinema. M+’s position to use a broader term that is not limited to a particular format or genre is forward looking and acknowledges this new reality. It also allows us to keep our research in tune with the rapid development of the audio-visual sector and artists’ critical role in the reflection on and usage of the new creative possibilities offered by the medium. 

See also: Exclusive: Inside Hong Kong’s New M+ Museum—Asia’s Answer To Tate Modern And MoMA

Why is it important for moving image to be collected, shown and studied in the context of a museum rather than, say, a cinema?

The moving image has been an essential part of the visual culture of the 20th and 21st centuries and revolutionised mankind’s apprehension of reality—just as photography did in the mid-19th century. In the museum context this has been long acknowledged by leading art institutions in the West, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Pompidou Centre in Paris, with their distinct film, video and new media art departments.

What has changed in recent years however, namely due to the digital revolution, is that moving image works nowadays fluidly circulate on a variety of screens. Artists show their works in museums, cinemas, festivals and on the internet alike—and each of these contexts have their own attraction and relevance. As a museum of visual culture, we are interested in this phenomenon, the interdisciplinary overlaps, the larger history of ideas that goes beyond medium specific segmentation. Within our programmes and spaces we provide a variety of original curatorial frameworks for objects from our collection, including the moving image, to be seen, studied and contextualised under a new light and in dialogue with neighbouring creative disciplines.

See also: Curator Ikko Yokoyama on M+: “No other museum in Asia is building a public architecture collection and design archive”

What is the history of moving image in Hong Kong? Does the city have a particularly strong tie to the medium?

Hong Kong is unquestionably one of the most iconic cinema cities in the world. Its international reputation arises from its vibrant film industry with outstanding film productions, star directors and actors, and its unique urban topography and energy, which have inspired countless stories and genre innovations on screen. Here, like elsewhere, the development of the film industry is intrinsically linked to the city’s evolution towards modernity, shaped by technological advancements and artists’ desire to experiment with new visual expressions.

Tracing this exceptional film history, its relationship with other artistic disciplines, and its interconnections with Asia and the world is one of the exciting objectives of our moving image programmes. The moving image clip packages with extracts by Hong Kong filmmakers such as Wong Kar-wai, Ann Hui, Johnnie To, Fruit Chan, Phillip Yung or Oliver Chan on display in the Hong Kong: Here and Beyond exhibition are a great example of Hong Kong’s rich filmic culture—and new associations can be brought out in such an interdisciplinary context.

What most excites you about the moving image scene in Asia more broadly?

I have been working with Asian moving image artists since the early 2000s and more intensely since the 2010s. It is the openness, dynamism and inventiveness of the Asian art and film scenes that stood out for me in these two decades. And the desire to form a strong community within Asia and the rest of the world. I am also excited that there are still many historical discoveries to make and so much to learn from the various film archives and research institutions focussing on this medium. It is also energising to witness such strong contemporary production across Asia and an increasing interest in these productions from the rest of the world.

See also: Hong Kong Director Ann Hui Talks Winning The Golden Lion Award And Her Filmmaking Journey

What will M+ offer in the field of moving images that will make it standout as an institution on a global level?

The artistic robustness and originality of the M+ Collection will serve as a point of departure for the development of well-researched and innovative thematic and monographic curatorial frameworks for a wide range of moving images, including recent art-house releases, film classics, Hong Kong cinema, as well as programmes presenting artist films, avant-garde movements, rarely seen films and popular moving image materials.

Furthermore, it is the M+ building with its dedicated moving image spaces and exhibition galleries that stands out on a global level and offers unseen curatorial possibilities for the moving image. 

What most excites you about the architecture of M+?

The building has an amazing variety of exhibition spaces with very distinct atmospheres and textures and certainly is a dream for any curator. I am personally particularly excited about the five dedicated moving image spaces (M+ Facade, Grand Stair, the three M+ Cinema houses—40, 60, 180 seats—and Mediatheque) that are a central feature of the building’s identity. Being an integral part of the viewing experience, these spaces of various scales and ambiances provide a particularly interesting architectural context to test the medium’s malleability and to think curatorially about scale, simultaneity and new spatio-temporal engagements with our audiences. 

See also: Vincent Wu Combines Art With Coffee With His New Cafe at M+

At M+, moving image is included in a broader collection that also includes visual art, and design and architecture. What are the challenges and benefits to displaying moving image art alongside more traditional works, like paintings?  

It is undoubtedly one of the strengths of M+’s organisational structure to have these four disciplines side by side under one curatorial umbrella. It allows for a strong integrated interdisciplinary approach that will bring out new connections between artists and makers from different backgrounds. Selected film programmes will respond to specific exhibitions and deepen or expand their curatorial framework, others will be the starting point for future exhibitions.  

The moving image has natural connections with visual art, design and architecture. The relationship between cinema and visual arts, well studied in the western context and to a lesser extent in Asia, stretches back to cinema’s early days, and involves the intersecting efforts of creative practitioners from both fields. Tracing the formal and conceptual affinities between art and film movements allows us to conceptualise cinema in relation to visual arts. For example, it is instructive to compare the nature of both disciplines; to explore the representation of visual arts in film; and to unravel cinematic art as a genre. Such studies are necessarily interdisciplinary and respond to the practices of our time as mentioned above.

As a reproductible (mass) medium that serves high and popular culture, and which is connected to a commercial industry with transnational production and distribution networks, the moving image furthermore shares affinities with the design industry. It also intersects with the architectural field, with movie theatres, media facades, and architecturally integrated screens or display structures being an integral part of the viewing experience.

See also: Art Collectors William And Lavina Lim On Donating Nearly 100 Artworks To M+

Looking to the future, when people talk about M+ in ten years, how do you hope they will describe the museum?

I hope that they will describe M+ as a museum that made a difference, for the city of Hong Kong, Asia and the world; as an art institution that set a new direction with its all-encompassing, cross-disciplinary approach to visual culture; and as an art institution that stands out not only for its artistic excellence but also the quality of its human relationships with artists, colleagues and of course our audiences.

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