It can all be traced back to an object found in the darkest corner of an antiques market in northern Scotland. The meaning of this artifact was unknown, but we guessed it had a previous life as a fishing tent. Perhaps it was set up on a riverbank and with the addition of a canvas cover, sheltered fishermen from the elements. Whether this speculation is true or not, the object inspired The Mobile Museum, a traveling museum concept by Fabrica designers Dean Brown (myself) and Philip Bone, with contents made by people from all over the world.
Phil and I brought together our skills as a graphic and industrial designer respectively. We were interested in re-designing a museum, in a portable, and temporary way. It felt appropriate to create something that had a relevance to travel, as a counterpoint to the pop-up cafés, boutiques and bookstores that were starting to show up everywhere at the time.
Our intention was to celebrate small gestures through curating temporary shows that were light on resources and brought culture to places that a traditional museum could not. Unlike a conventional museum, the collection is always changing, with every new location dictating a different curatorial theme. Since it’s humble origins in April, 2011 the Mobile Museum has popped up in Milan, London, Brussels, Helsinki, Luxembourg, Beijing, and Hong Kong.
We wanted to define a creative platform made complete through the contributions sourced from an international community of artists, designers and photographers. In this way it had to be flexible and neutral to an extent—a blank canvas to support different purposes, borrowing typical characteristics from a museum, whilst avoiding the heaviness and permanence of a conventional institution. To compliment the physical space we created a website to archive the exhibitions, and tied everything together with a visual identity.
With every exhibition we try to tell a story related to the host city, and is meaningful to our visitors, through themes that have a local flavor but are also universally appropriate. We receive contributions from all over the world, as an open call, so it’s important to find the right balance between specific and open. Our first show in Milan was themed around “Family”, because of the strong family bonds in Italian culture. It was very successful because it suited the location and has so many interpretations—you could really play with it. In the same spirit we curated “Money” in Luxembourg and most recently “Authentic” in Hong Kong.
During our seven shows to date we had many special moments. In Milan we created a tiny coffee shop, serving Italian espressos to visitors. In London we exhibited in the Grand Hall of the Victoria & Albert Museum, next to 25 renaissance sculptures. During our most recent show in Hong Kong we celebrated Chinese New Year.
The whole project is participatory and relies on the generosity of people to donate work and host our shows. We are very proud to see the results and to now have a bit of a following. It is an honor to have pieces donated by notables like Stefan Sagmeister, Sebastian Bergne, Studio O Portable and Luis Urculo to name a few.
So far, we have toured extensively in Europe and now we’re making our way across Asia. We’re always happy to receive invitations to bring the Mobile Museum to interesting places, and to new audiences. A real milestone would be to visit all five continents, to curate ten shows or to meet the Pope—whichever comes first.
Fabrica is Benetton Group's communication research center. Fabrica offers young artists and designers a one-year scholarship and provides an opportunity for professional growth, as well as a wealth of resources and relationships, with experts guiding them as they develop social and cultural communication projects in the fields of design, visual communication, photography, interaction, video, music and publishing.
Images courtesy of Gustavo Millon, Philip Bone, Dean Brown, Namyoung An, Wang Yang, and Alberto Ferretto
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