The Olympics Drawn: designing the exhibition

David Barnett is a digital scenographer and graphic designer, as well as an academic and technician at Chelsea College of Arts on the BA Graphic Design Communication team. Collaborating with curator Dr. Joanne O’Hara, Barnett designed the exhibition The Olympics Drawn for Wimbledon Space.

‘Jo and I met to look at the design aspects of The Olympics Drawn exhibition at the end of October 2013, having been introduced by Professor Stephen Farthing. Stephen, Donald Smith and I had collaborated on the 2009 Life Room exhibition at CHELSEA space together, which combined fitness and sport along with art and design in a live studio environment. Even then, Stephen and Donald had flirted with idea of using an exhibition as a vehicle for becoming involved in the upcoming London 2012 games. We wanted to examine the relationship with the arts and Olympic values and ideas. Having been a huge fan of the 2012 Olympic design elements in the first place, I was surprised to hear about the amount of important materials Jo had gained access to. I jumped at the chance of being involved.

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Touching up a print, photo by David Barnett

Perhaps the most difficult process in an exhibition of this kind was cutting down the amount of displayed work to make a coherent story within the space we had. When the artefacts were collected as a list of files, it was clear that there was too much to show in one exhibition. To help visualise our ideas, we made a digital model of the exhibition space and added the content virtually to see what would fit. Even so, we had to reduce the size of a few items to allow the work to breath in the space as it went up. Some items, like a giant winners podium, just didn’t fit the use of the space. However others, like the Mary Poppins costume, worked well and still held their iconic appeal. Context also mattered- some drawings had been used for internal presentations or working purposes in the making of the games and so became very difficult to reprint at a higher resolution for the exhibition. After doing some tests we realised that enlarging some almost until the images broke up visually was more important than keeping them sharp – I had to break a few design rules to do this, but the effect was worth it.

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The installed exhibition, photo by Nick Manser

I utilised graphic layouts on an inkjet printing substrate called Phototex, a sticky backed, low-tac, woven material. This allows the possibility to design multiple image layouts in large-scale graphic wallpaper and to be able to peel it of the wall and reposition or reprint if changes are needed. Using a material substrate rather than a scan reprinted on white paper gave back the feeling of the original printed drawings, making them more tactile and dimensional.

Some of the architectural plans and the James Bond/Queen storyboards, for example, we decided would work best in a projected or on-screen format. Here the original sizes mattered less (in the case of the small storyboards) or the detail could be preserved to a greater extent (in the case of the very big vector schematics). In this way we were able to show multiple selections of drawn plans on a large projection, looping slideshow. This allowed moving image based materials and stills to be shown on screens where they could be seen more clearly. Importantly, the net result of having so much digital content is that the bulk of the exhibition could be reproduced at the flick of a print switch if ever required in the future.

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Printed and getting ready to mount, photo by David Barnett

 

Conversely, the physical artefacts, like original drawings and sketchbooks, needed to be displayed amongst this various media and needed a special housing and lighting. Through Stephen’s association with the Royal Academy of Arts, we borrowed some display cases, which were previously created by Billings Jackson Design. These formed the spatial core of the exhibition. They gave us an element which had to have certain positioning due to traffic flow and electrical supply, helping us shape the overall plan of the exhibition.

The usual place to start thinking about an Olympics exhibition is the design ephemera and iconic visual language of sport- lane markings, Olympic rings and colours, etc. We decided early on to let those things go and to support the work, letting it dictate the scenography of the show and only use extra design where it was needed. I would have loved to use the hundred weather balloons with gold Olympic rings dangling below, as in the opening ceremony design, but it just wasn’t needed. Instead we enjoyed the simple drama of lighting, which Wimbledon Space affords so well, and kept a healthy mix of original artefacts, reproduced drawings and screen based work in an easily understood way.’

The Olympics Drawn is at Wimbledon Space, running until 14 November 2014.

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The Olympics Drawn, Private View, photo by Francisco Lerios

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