The Cabinet: Turning Open Storage into a Game of Interpretation

Winnie Lai M+
Claudia Tsang M+ Museum


What does it mean to have open storage in the middle of our museum galleries? What opportunities does it provide for exploring digital and interactive elements within these galleries?

At M+, there is a gallery in which 40 panels displaying 200 paintings, posters, and photographs move in front of your eyes. What they display shuffles every two hours. There are no detailed wall labels to accompany them, only questions on a screen asking you what you think about what you see. This is The Cabinet, an open storage system that allows for interactive digital experiences that are distinctly different from the typical white cube gallery.

This paper traces the background and starting points as well as the conceptualisation and design of The Cabinet; it shares the process and takeaways of how this digitally-embedded experience, which aims to help visitors engage with the M+ Collections through the lens of visual culture, was realised.


What does it mean to have open storage in the middle of our museum galleries? What opportunities does it provide for exploring digital and interactive elements within these galleries?

At M+, there is a gallery in which 40 panels displaying 200 paintings, posters, and photographs move in front of your eyes. What they display shuffles every two hours. There are no detailed wall labels to accompany them, only questions on a screen asking you what you think about what you see. This is The Cabinet, an open storage system that allows for interactive digital experiences that are distinctly different from the typical white cube gallery.

The process of turning an open storage facility into an interactive game based on interpretation was long and challenging, but also rewarding. We started with a series of big questions: what can The Cabinet do that other galleries cannot? How can we use it to rethink curating, collecting, and exhibiting? What can it tell us about how we engage with visual culture, or the physical space versus the digital one? This paper traces the background and starting points as well as the conceptualisation and design of The Cabinet; it shares the process and takeaways of how this digitally-embedded experience, which aims to help visitors engage with the M+ Collections through the lens of visual culture, was realised.

1.    Background of The Cabinet, M+, and its Mission

[caption id="attachment_14161" align="alignnone" width="1800"]Two people stand in front of The Cabinet at M+, consisting of three large panels with a barrier in front and a stand with six tablet computers. The central panel shows a projection of a digital screen, while the two side panels display multiple artworks hanging in groups. Figure 1: Visitors bring The Cabinet to life. Photo: Dan Leung/ M+[/caption]

The Cabinet was among the suite of galleries welcoming visitors when M+ opened its doors in November 2021. One of two museums within Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, M+ is a museum of visual culture dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, and interpreting visual art, design and architecture, and moving image of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The “+” in its name points to M+’s concept of being a “museum and more.” The goal is to create a new kind of museum that reflects our unique time and place. As one of the few large-scale museums to focus on contemporary visual culture, M+ opened with a bold ambition to push boundaries in terms of how we think, not just what we do, as an institution. The lens of visual culture is unique to this mandate.

M+’s ambition is evident in its scale: the building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, has a total floor area of 65,000 square metres including 17,000 square metres of exhibition space, three cinemas of different sizes, two outdoor terraces, a learning hub, and a museum facade that displays moving image works. Our first executive director, Lars Nittve—former director of Moderna Museet, Stockholm—proposed building an open storage gallery as an alternative way for visitors to engage with our collections based on the Pontus Hultén Study Gallery (PHSG) at Moderna Museet. Led by Stella Fong⁠—our then Lead Curator, Learning and Interpretation⁠—the project was realised in collaboration with the internal Digital Team and later with the design firms Potion Design and Studio Joseph. The team started planning in 2017 when museum construction was still underway, relying only on the imagination of what the space would be like given the initial specifications and architectural drawings.

2.    Open Storage as a Gallery Space

[caption id="attachment_14162" align="alignnone" width="820"]Photograph showing two long rows of white panels hanging from a metal storage rack. Two metal conveyance tracks hang from the ceiling between the panels. Figure 2: This panel storage system, with its mechanised conveyance tracks, keeps The Cabinet’s front-facing display regularly updated. Photo: Lok Cheng/ M+[/caption]

It is sometimes harder to start with a blank canvas. Parameters can act as restrictions, opportunities, or even starting points to help define the nature of something new. The set-up of this open storage system on the gallery floor posited its own challenges, but they became our main leads. We started with the essential questions: what can The Cabinet do that the other galleries cannot? How can we harness the interactivity and randomness of the mechanism to our benefit? 

We learnt more about these challenges from colleagues at PHSG and our visit to Moderna Museet. Our Stockholm counterpart was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano to host donations from the private collection of the museum’s first director, Pontus Hultén. Their system is based on an on-demand model in which visitors can summon a specific panel to view the works hung on it. It is situated on the lower levels of the museum away from the main galleries. Apart from hosting seminars, workshops, and small exhibitions, the space is used mostly for research by appointment.

The Cabinet at M+ differs in several respects. First of all, it sits amongst all of the other galleries. In fact, it is the first gallery you encounter when using the escalator from the Main Hall. As it is more integrated into the gallery spaces, the panel system it inherited from PHSG also called for a different conceptual and curatorial approach:

  • We improved the mechanism by having the panels only travel along one axis. We learnt that the system at PHSG is more prone to breakdowns because the movement of the panels involves two axes. Our forty panels are instead divided into two rows with twenty on each side. Between them is a corridor along which a single panel can travel. When you summon a panel, it moves into this corridor and travels to the front.
  • We want The Cabinet to be a collective viewing experience that engages multiple visitors, especially given its central location. PHSG’s on-demand mode means it can only serve a single visitor or group of visitors at a time and requires staff to operate. To better integrate with the rest of the galleries, The Cabinet has to run on its own without the need for constant facilitation.
  • The digital element is essential to the panels’ operation. At PHSG, the interface was not made for public use. We saw the opportunity in bringing the digital element to the forefront and aiming for a digitally-embedded experience at the outset.

3.    Defining the Conceptual Framework

We had defined the cornerstones: the open storage mechanism and the digital element. But what would they be supporting? What would the content, theme, and concept be? With M+’s mandate as a new museum of the twenty-first century in Asia dedicated to the collection, study, and display of visual culture, how could we use The Cabinet to think differently about curation, collection, and exhibition? How could we use it to explore visual culture and its discourses?

The Cabinet of Curiosities

The gallery’s name, The Cabinet, came after the mechanism’s main features were decided upon but before we had a curatorial concept. The inspiration behind the name came from sixteenth-century collections of wondrous and eclectic objects: the Wunderkammern, also known as cabinets of curiosities. They displayed the private collections of European aristocrats, showcasing anything from historical relics and archaeological specimens to works of art, antiquities, and other cultural or miscellaneous objects. Meant to be encyclopaedic as well as sensational, they were seen as microcosms of the world in their arrangement and selection, reflective of the collectors’ interests and worldviews. The cabinet of curiosities is often considered the origin of the museum, with its potential for making meaning out of a collection through display. It aims to inspire curiosity about the exhibited items, inviting us to read the correlations between them and discover ideas beyond just one narrative thread—telling us as much about the people who arranged the objects as about the objects themselves. We want The Cabinet to tell visitors what M+ is about.

An open storage exhibition space brings the objects and visitors together in a very different format than in a normal gallery space. Joëlle Tuerlinckx characterises an exhibition as “a perpetual redefinition of things, a sort of permanent refutation(Steeds, 2014). Even without the works on the panels, The Cabinet’s mechanism embodies this sense of perpetual redefinition. The Cabinet tells a non-linear narrative. At any given point, a visitor will encounter any three out of forty panels, laid out horizontally in front of them. Imagine a deck of cards where you can shuffle and create a different reading or narrative every time, based on a myriad of possible combinations. This configuration calls for a departure from traditional curatorial approaches.

The Lens of Visual Culture

As previously mentioned, the lens of visual culture is unique to our mandate. Visual culture is the study of images and visual expressions, from the process of their creation and their formal qualities to their cultural reception. At the same time, it is a reflection on the forces at play when understanding and relating to the world. In one of his books on visual culture, Nicolas Mirzoeff (2015) writes, “Visual culture is now the study of how to understand change in a world too enormous to see but vital to imagine.” He adds, “Simply put, the question at stake for visual culture is, then, how to see the world?”

The study of visual culture is relatively new and evolving. At M+, we mostly explore this discipline by doing. Through our inaugural exhibitions and programmes, M+ constructs a new way of seeing and interpreting through visual culture as we tell the expansive stories of Asia and beyond. There are a few aspects of this visual culture lens to emphasise:

  • This lens is about matters found all around us. We show how an understanding of visual culture can prompt us to reflect, improve, intervene in, critique, re-imagine, and even transform everyday experiences.
  • It calls for informed seeing. We emphasise how seeing is cultural and personal; that it is a critical and active process that can bring about change.
  • It is a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach. We acknowledge that the nature of knowledge and creativity can become both structured and unrestricted through belonging to disciplines. In addition, we show how the cross-disciplinary nature of visual culture further enriches our everyday experiences.

Furthermore, if visual culture is “a tactic with which to study the genealogy, definition, and functions of postmodern everyday life, from the point of view of the consumer” (Mirzoeff, 1999), how can we use The Cabinet to help visitors engage with the M+ Collections through this lens? More and more, we experience the world through the mass volume of imagery and content via screens and digital media, mostly, with a logic that appear random to us. While the rest of the gallery spaces—mostly white cube galleries—offer a more conventional experience, The Cabinet’s storage system provides the “randomness” factor, and the inclusion of digital features allow us to incorporate the element of the screens. The Cabinet offers an opportunity to do something more reflective of the nature and process of seeing, and give precedence to the perspectives of our visitors, who are the consumers of the visual world.

Our initial five-member curatorial team reviewed all two-dimensional works in our collections and voted on those with the most potential for open interpretation. We narrowed down the selection to some 200 works across media and disciplines. When distributed over the forty panels, they create an image saturation effect that echoes the visual landscape of billboards, commercials, phone screens, and social image-sharing that occupies our daily lives.

Works are grouped on each panel for various reasons including visual resonance, similarity in composition, colour, or subject matter. One panel might feature works depicting solitary figures, close-up faces, or circles; another could showcase varying shades of red, repeating patterns, or landscapes. We intentionally left the logic behind these groupings unspoken. We are often confronted with a multiplicity of visual images in our lives, and it is up to us to decipher the message or the intent. The thinking behind our curating is meant to reflect this sense of all-encompassing visual culture.

[caption id="attachment_14168" align="alignnone" width="827"]Panel mock-up displaying seven images. Clockwise from the top is a painting depicting a white and yellow sphere against a dark purple background. Next is an ink painting depicting a series of nested geometric shapes: a pale yellow circle in a grey square, which sits in an ivory square against a grey background that is divided by two dark grey vertical lines. On the row below is a photograph taken from above an unfolded, leaf-shaped, white hand fan with a black handle. Next is a photograph showing a round white plate of rice noodle rolls covered in soy sauce. This is followed by an ink painting in which two layers of black ink form a thick ring. On the bottom row is a pencil drawing of a group of children wearing identical striped pajamas and sitting in a circle. Lastly is a sketch of a geodesic dome. Figure 3: An example of a curated panel that shows a grouping of an acrylic painting, two ink paintings, two photographs, a pencil drawing and a design sketch.[/caption]

4.    A Game of Interpretation: Thinking about Visitor Engagement

How do we create relevance for our audiences and help them engage with our collections? Can we give the visitors a platform and let them be the storytellers? This digital initiative is an experiment for both M+ as well as our audience: rather than the museum’s voice being the authority in telling a story, we use The Cabinet to give a platform to visitors’ voices with the hope that more stories can, and will, be told.

Levels of Engagement in Visual Culture

With the Cabinet, the curatorial team aims to elicit a sense of wonder in the encounters with our collections, encouraging visitors to look deeper and bringing personal meaning to the forefront. At a time when visual images are integral to our lives, informing how we communicate and understand the world, reflecting on the process of reading images can be both revealing and beneficial. Besides becoming better at visually interpreting and understanding the world around us, this sense of awareness can help us know ourselves better, communicate differently, and ultimately transform ourselves, our interactions with others, and the world.

Like learning a language for specific social contexts, our encounter with the visual is a layered process. One needs to build visual literacy and consolidate it through practising visual thinking (Mirzoeff, 2015). This is about developing competence in seeing—to “discriminate and interpret the visible actions, objects, symbols, natural or man-made, that [one] encounters in [one’s] environment (Debes, 1969, as cited in Harrison, 2012)—and coming up with meaning “from a variety of perspectives to meet the requirements of particular social contexts” (Serafini, 2017). In the context of online phenomena, visual culture as a form of communication, or visual conversation, refers to how “networked cultures are intensifying the visual component and moving past speech” (Mirzoeff, 2015). Interactions within online communities thus “contribute to the overall feeling of cohesiveness and shared understanding in the community” (McDonald, 2017). On a transformative level, visual culture can be a form of visual activism (Mirzoeff, 2015), and a way to create forms of change.

These visual interpretation strategies and principles became a framework for us to think about the experience of The Cabinet. We wanted our visitors, regardless of their familiarity with art, to feel empowered to interpret it. Interpretation is a personal process; there is no right or wrong. It is a relationship between the viewer and the object, reflective of the person interpreting and the time and place at which it takes place. Many people without formal art or design education may find it daunting to be in a gallery, facing objects they do not know anything about. But ways to engage with the visual are inherent in all of us, especially when we engage with visual imagery every day. How could we bring our visitors to the awareness that they already have the tools they need for interpreting and discussing visual culture?

What do you see? – Visual Thinking Strategies as Inspiration

One of our core references was Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a teaching method developed by museum educator Philip Yenawine and cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen in the late 1980s that “fosters collaborative, inclusive, community-building dialogue” ( The essence of VTS is the facilitation of a group viewing of an artwork through three guiding questions:

  • What is going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

The first question involves an open discussion about anything from observations to emotions to personal associations. Then, viewers are asked to support their opinions by looking deeper and drawing associations. The last question encourages further observation or consideration of others’ viewpoints. VTS gives people a chance to learn, listen, and consider different ways of seeing. The experience emphasises that there is no model answer when appreciating art. Most importantly, VTS is about facilitating multiple viewpoints, it is an invitation to share one’s voice.

Putting the audiences’ voice at the centre of the museum is a way for the team to question the convention of seeing the museum as having one authoritative voice. This is also about creating an exchange: the curatorial team can learn from our visitor’s ways of thinking, which might be able to inform our future curatorial and interpretation projects.

A Game of Interpretation

The Cabinet takes into account our reflection on the principles of visual interpretation and conversation as well as different levels of engagement. The simple yet powerful VTS principles became a key inspiration for its framework. Engaging a digital experience design firm, we thus developed an interactive game that could facilitate interpretation.

As you enter The Cabinet, you see three large panels on display. The two side panels showcase works from the M+ Collections; the one in the centre invites you to join in on a game with friends or fellow visitors via publicly available iPads or your mobile device.

[caption id="attachment_14163" align="alignnone" width="1024"]A pair of hands using a tablet computer. The tablet displays a page with the header ‘The Cabinet’ and a photo of The Cabinet. Figure 4: Visitors can join in by using the iPad provided in the gallery or accessing the content via their own mobile devices. Photo: Dan Leung/ M+[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14165" align="alignright" width="222"]Screencap from The Cabinet's interactive game. Ho Fan’s photo ‘Approaching Shadow’, in which a shadow casts a sharp diagonal on the wall in front of a woman, is displayed. Above is the question ‘How would you describe the atmosphere?’ Below are the suggestions ‘Type here’ and ‘Tap For An Idea!’ Figure 5: Through the prompting questions, visitors select a highlight area and input their responses to the detail of the image.[/caption]

You, the visitor, will encounter a question prompting you to share your views about the works on display over two rounds. In the first round, you are asked to look closely at a work or group of works and share a specific interpretation or detail of interest. After each player has given a response, some of their entries are displayed anonymously. The second round invites all players to react to each other’s responses through commenting or voting before the game moves on to the next prompt.

In the game, we ask the visitor to note what they see and share what makes them say so. Visitors are invited to draw connections between the works on display and their own observations, guiding them through the process of reading visual cues. These visitor responses might imagine a dialogue between characters in the works, highlight forgotten details, or add contemporary relevance through pop culture references. We hope people find inspiration, resonance, or surprises in the contrasts between words and images and feel excited to share their own views and observations. The forty moving panels automatically shuffle every two hours, creating a seemingly endless supply of new objects and artworks for visitors to observe and interpret together.

At certain intervals between games, the screen also displays inputs from earlier visitors, showing an accumulation of exchanges and unique perspectives. The collective in-gallery game experience emphasises that there is no right or wrong in art appreciation. The game brings the viewing experience back to the visitors, asking them: what do they notice? What might each work mean to them? Why are these works placed together? How do groupings influence their views of individual works? And what can they notice in the arrangements?

[caption id="attachment_14166" align="aligncenter" width="223"]Screencap from The Cabinet's interactive game. A grouping of five artworks is displayed, each depicting a scene featuring a solitary figure. Text above this grouping reads, ‘These works feature solitary figures. Why might people want to be alone sometimes?’ At the bottom is a line with the text, ‘Type here’. Figure 6: Through the prompting questions, visitors input their responses to the group of works on a curated panel.[/caption]

5.    Encouraging Discovery and Exchange through Design

What is the relationship between the physical versus the digital experience? The Cabinet was an experiment for us in integrating digital interactive elements within a gallery. It considers how digital elements can help enhance the experience of an in-gallery open storage system, emphasising exchange and the act of looking. To create a holistic and seamless experience, the physical and the digital must be of equal importance starting from their conceptual phases. We went through several concept and design workshops, focus groups, and in-person testing sessions. The digital and physical components of The Cabinet informed each other throughout these processes of conception and design, as well as in the final iteration. To encourage discovery through looking and exchange through play, we considered both physical and digital aspects in our design references and choices:

  • The common language of social media platforms. As we thought of the presence of visual communication in our daily lives, we became particularly interested in how visual conversations happen in the digital sphere. How we ask visitors to share their observations is therefore meant to mirror how we communicate online. Features such as comments, likes, polls, hashtags, emoticons, and danmu (bullet comments) were reference points in creating our interactive experience. In the game, visitors input their thoughts in the manner of a short caption or hashtag and vote for what resonates. Features like instant translation also reference the common language that we are used to on social media platforms. On certain platforms, the comments section is a kind of forum, acting as a barometer of the public’s views on a particular topic. Bringing elements of visual conversation to the design is one of the ways we can show our visitors that interpretation is a huge part of our everyday, and that we already possess all the tools we need for having a conversation about art.

    [caption id="attachment_14164" align="alignright" width="222"]Screencap showing an image of a panel of artworks against a purple background. Over the image are the words 'You've submitted the most popular response!' and an applause icon. Below the image are the words 'At least a hug a day' and a smaller applause icon. Figure 7: The collective live gaming experience resembles the sense of acknowledgement of getting “likes” on a social media post.[/caption]

  • Game elements. We referenced game design and gamification theory during our design process. Each game, consisting of two rounds, lasts for less than fifteen minutes. The idea of adding a polling screen is aimed at boosting visitor engagement. Some games end with a “winner” with the most votes, and others with a juxtaposition of visitors’ responses. These features emphasise the collective, live gaming experience and include moments of payoff, such as having the most voted-for response—similar to getting “likes” on a social media post.
  • Exhibition design. Most of the physical gallery space of The Cabinet is taken up by the forty panels. Despite the limited space for visitors, there is specific zoning happening in The Cabinet. Studio Joseph designed a barrier to protect the collection, which also serves as the main station where visitors can play the game. It brings the visitors closer to the works and the projection screen. At the end of the room are seats where people can join the game via their mobile devices or just sit and watch it unfold on the middle panel.
  • Using the middle panel as a projection screen. One of our main breakthroughs was our decision to turn the middle panel into a central projection screen. This created a platform and space for visitors’ responses. It also helped make the experience a collective one, while uniting the digital and physical experiences. To amplify this collectivity, every step of the game is projected onto the central panel. This allows us to include even the non-players in the room—just like in the digital sphere, where engagements can be active or passive, and dialogue can sometimes unfold as a spectacle for others.

6.    Some Takeaways from The Cabinet

Designing with the Digital in Mind

Adding digital elements to the museum and gallery experience has been a key interpretive strategy in museums for decades to enhance visitor engagement. What does it mean to create a digitally-embedded experience? Here are a few reflections from the team on designing with the digital in mind:

  • Understanding the role of digital in your project was essential to the process. Digital isn’t the entire solution, but it can be a means to get to the answer. While going digital has a lot of potential, it must also be practical in scope. In The Cabinet, we defined the digital element at the outset: we knew we wanted it to serve as more than a functional back-end interface, but we also wanted to make sure we were encouraging an in-gallery experience. Digital was not an add-on or an afterthought, but integral to our thinking and process. This helped us make the best use of digital elements to encourage the acts of looking and exchanging that form the core values of the experience of The Cabinet.
  • The digital element allowed us to build an experience that can scale up and evolve, but that also comes with its own complexities. Going digital delivers some level of flexibility. Our content management system (CMS) allows for easy scaling and can host vast amounts of data, but each change or addition to the content requires testing. Testing and troubleshooting both take time, as did familiarising our team with the back-end systems. Understanding the pros and cons of digital is another essential consideration when working with limited resources and time.
  • The process is about setting a goal and then being willing to let it go. It is important to design and test with the user in mind. We came up with many frameworks for the content and concepts. During game development, we had at least seven different types of games. We conducted user testing with prototypes to get early feedback on what did or did not work. We would often find that simpler is better. This helped us tighten our focus and create a better UX. As the project team, we had to be willing to let go of our layers of research or assumptions and refine the experience. This process did not go to waste: because the team devoted so much time to laying the foundations, we became very clear on our goals and ideal outcomes. The many conceptual frameworks we went through gave us key cornerstones that provided a stronger foundation when entering the design phase. This helped us make better decisions when designing and iterating.

There Is Always Room to Improve

The Cabinet was an experiment—in looking, and in curating a digital and physical collection using open storage. While a more formal evaluation is worth doing in the future, we invited an external party to conduct a small-scale usability test on the UX of The Cabinet. Sixteen participants provided takeaways that we hope to address in the longer-term reiteration of The Cabinet. Here are a few to highlight:

  • The formulation of the prompts and questions affects the ease of entry for the game. Participants found questions that asked for observations easier to respond to than those that required more thought, such as asking “why do you think…?” This is also due to the short response time for each game. So far, we have published 257 game prompts that rotate alongside the associated works and panels. We receive a total of 2,000-5,000 visitor responses daily. In the coming phases, we would like to take more time to study these responses and understand how we might more effectively ask questions within The Cabinet’s framework.
  • The game’s pacing is a huge part of the UX consideration, but finding the sweet spot for its duration is difficult. The level of competency when using digital devices and communication modes varies across generations and backgrounds. Some participants commented that the input timing was too short, and others that it was too long. The decision to create a collective game experience has meant forgoing a more personalised pacing for each visitor.
  • Different visitors have different expectations. While some participants intuitively understood The Cabinet as an experience about their interpretations, some preferred and expected to gain information rather than share their thoughts. While there is no conclusive data, this gives us some insight into our visitors and will be a basis for us to think about the next update for The Cabinet.

Alternative Uses of The Cabinet

As previously mentioned, we wanted the space to run on its own, so it was designed to not require facilitation. However, what opportunities would appear if we were to add facilitation to the experience?

One of our programmes offers us a glimpse into what that might look like. The Teacher Professional Development Programmes led by our school team include a facilitated visit to The Cabinet. The 2.5-hour programme is designed for school principals and teachers to improve self-development and team bonding. It provides a moment for teachers to get out of their daily routines to reflect on their teaching practices and how they relate to their peers and students.

The programme invites the participants “to reimagine and reinterpret the role of teachers and explore the relationship between their personality, traits, and practice” ( Participants can “take a closer look at selected works, engage in a personal self-dialogue, discover new perspectives [on themselves], and explore effective ways to communicate with their students.”

After exercises that focus on self-reflection, the teachers visit The Cabinet in groups. An educator introduces The Cabinet and invites the teachers to play the game together. The Cabinet experience is a demonstration of alternative perspectives and emphasises that there are no right or wrong answers. As the group already knows one another, their responses and discussions can go more in-depth faster when the responses are shown on the middle screen. The experience invites the teachers to bring these ideas around alternative ways of seeing back to their daily interactions with students.

We asked the teachers to highlight what they think the goal of The Cabinet is. With 179 responses gathered across four schools, these were the results:

  • “To ascribe personal meaning to the collections.” (為藏品賦予個人的意義) 25%
  • “To share my point of view about the collections.” (分享對藏品的一己之見) 23%
  • “To find inspiration, resonance, and surprise in the images and texts.” (從圖文對比中尋獲靈感、共鳴和驚喜) 25%
  • ”To discover similarities and differences between myself and others through the collections.” (藉藏品發掘自己與他人的異同)5%

Participating teachers found all four goals to be relevant and votes were fairly balanced, with the most popular option being, “to find inspiration, resonance, and surprise in the images and texts.” This relatively small sample gives us an early indicator that The Cabinet’s goal—to invite participants to be aware of the process of interpretation through the juxtaposition of images and texts—is being achieved. This is only the beginning; we look forward to seeing how The Cabinet evolves with different audience groups.

Conclusion: The Chance Encounter that Invites You to Look Again

Tasked with transforming an open storage gallery, we started our journey by asking: how can we show our audience that a collection of visual culture is relevant to their everyday lives? Along the way, we turned this unique display space into an interactive game about interpretation that highlights that everyone’s views matter.

We wanted our visitors to be intrigued by a different gallery experience and be curious to take a longer and deeper look at the works. Furthermore, we wanted the experience to encourage visitors to share their interpretations and see that every perspective is valid. We imagine that this experience will invite people to reflect on how we read and see images in our everyday lives. The paradox of such an invitation is that the “everyday is obvious but elusive…we tend to experience [the everyday] as a kind of ubiquitous unremarkable ‘background’”(Martin, 2003) to other things in our lives.

“The time of everyday life is repetitive and cyclical” as a structure, but that also means that it can be “punctuated by the unpredictable” (Martin, 2003). For many, a trip to the museum marks a break in their everyday. A memorable museum visit is often made up of serendipitous encounters. Discovering an unexpected artwork or object that makes you look or think twice, that speaks to you and moves you, is a powerful experience. Sharing that moment with another person can make it even more special. The Cabinet heightens this sense of having a magical chance encounter. With the constantly moving panels, the unconventional space not only brings the usually back-of-house elements to the forefront but also hopes to bring those “moments of surprise and broken routines” (Martin, 2003) to a planned museum visit.

The Cabinet cannot replicate what we experience in the real world. As Svetlana Alpers (1991) reflects on in “The Museum as a Way of Seeing”, the museum effect has “[a] tendency to isolate something from its world to offer it up for attentive looking and thus to transform it into art like our own…the invitation to look at it attentively remains and…may even be enhanced.” Mirzoeff (2015) points out that, “Once we have learned how to see the world, we have taken only one of the required steps. The point is to change it.”  We hope that The Cabinet reminds our visitors to “look more attentively” and, through the experience, discover more meaning in their real-world interactions—and, ultimately, become agents of change in their everyday lives.


The author would like to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge the teams that made this project happen: the initial core working team including Stella Fong, Janet Chan, Ruby Ho, Claudia Tsang, Diane Wang, William Smith, and Catherine Erneux; colleagues from the Exhibition and Collection and Conservation teams at M+; as well as members of the working teams from Potion Design and Studio Joseph.


Alpers, S. (1991). “The Museum as a Way of Seeing.” In I. Karps and S.D. Lavine (ed.). Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. London and Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 25-32.

Harrison, K. (2012). “What is Visual Literacy?” In International Visual Literacy Association, last updated August 13, 2012. Consulted February 26, 2023.

Martin, F. (2003). Interpreting Everyday Culture. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

McDonald, D.W. (2007). “Visual Conversation Styles in Web Communities.” In HICSS 2007 – 40th Hawaii International International Conference on Systems Science 3-6 January, 2007. Waikoloa, Big Island: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, 76. Consulted February 26, 2023.

Mirzoeff, N. (1998). “What is Visual Culture?”. In N. Mirzoeff (ed.). The Visual Culture Reader. London; New York: Routledge, 4-13.

Mirzoeff, N. (2015). How to See the London: Penguin Random House.

Serafini, F. (2017). “Visual Literacy.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education, last updated February 27, 2017. Consulted February 26, 2023.

Steeds, L. (2014). “Introduction//Contemporary Exhibitions: Art at Large in the World.” In L. Steeds (ed.). Documents of Contemporary Art: Exhibition. London: Whitechapel Gallery; Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 12-23.

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