The New Improved Exhibition « #RWCMD

We’re so happy to see the return of our annual Balance Exhibition filling the Linbury Gallery and Bute Theatre with the incredible work of our final-year Design students!

Sean Crowley, the Director of Drama and Head of Design for Performance here at RWCMD has taken the time to talk to us about what Balance is, and how it’s developed for the better post-pandemic:

The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Balance Exhibition returns after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic and in some ways, as a very different exhibition.

It’s always been an annual highlight for the Design department, a celebration of the students’ work across all areas of design, across all College productions.

Strangely, the two years without the exhibition, have provided us with a positive chance to evaluate how we can move forward to create a sustainable and accessible exhibition, fit for future purposes.

So, what’s changed?

Balance historically was the final moment in the students’ academic assessment. The stress in the last two weeks prior to opening was palpable with exhausted and anxious students making glaring mistakes: website links pointing to nowhere and portfolios unfinished.

However, since 2020, we were forced to find alternative assessment methods through website and digital galleries which have provided a logical and kinder way forward.

The website forms the assessed component and the students’ stress levels are managed through structured tutorials.

Their learning is focused on creating a future-facing web presence and not on the anxieties of preparing for an opening night. The exhibition, therefore, has become a true celebration of the students’ transition into industry.

Yes, the students want to show their best possible work, but now they can ask staff advice in an open way.

The exhibition has also changed in terms of how we make it.

Previously the most effective way was using full MDF (Medium Density Fibre) boards that hinged together.

 Each exhibition used approximate 200 panels per year. These panels, where possible, were recycled and used in future College productions but often more than 50% were put into skips.

Frames at Llanishen Workshop being welded into place.

MDF is a notoriously difficult material to recycle because it’s a composite of wood fibre and adhesive, which can be hard to separate. Even though we found ways of reusing some of the boards, eventually all of them probably made their way to landfill sites.

A priority moving forward was to find a way of realising the exhibition using materials that were recyclable and sustainable.

This has led to the creation of steel-framed panels that are designed to stack within a standard container at our Llanishen workshop.

The Future of Balance: Sustainable and Accessible

The frames we’ve created will be reused every year, immediately reducing the need to manufacture new panels for each exhibition. They have a mounted panel of sustainable and recyclable material made of compressed wheat which will hopefully have a life span of at least five years, if not longer!

They can be detached and stored separately which means we will have a significant financial saving over the coming years. The design has a hinging system for the adjustment of panel angles and includes threaded holes for the fixings of any lighting and cabling.

We’ve also chosen to use different panel sizes and positions to improve fabrication efficiency and accessibility and all panels are painted with chalk-based paint that contains no toxic substances. The steel frames have even been constructed to include adjustable feet for Bargehouse, Balance’s exhibition space in London with its uneven floors.

Overall, the design of our new frames allows for an extremely flexible exhibition system which can be suitable for a variety of alternative purposes.

Encouraging a more sustainable approach

All students have been encouraged to explore the use of sustainable or recycled materials when masking models and mounting pictures. The last of our sheets of foam board has been finished, no display mount has been sprayed, and no zip ties used.

All exhibits and spaces have been created to try and make the work as accessible as possible. Bargehouse still poses the problem of its top two floors, but we’ve introduced QR codes located on the accessible ground floor so that visitors with mobility issues can access the students’ websites.

QR codes on the exhibit.

The final exhibition is an embodiment of what we aspire to be in the College. It represents the breadth of talent across all of RWCMD, celebrating the successes of our students and our ambition for the College as a forward-looking nurturing community.

Reducing our carbon footprint is a journey, and we still have more to do. But this year’s final exhibition takes a big step forward in our aspiration and will make a significant difference for years and years to come.

We hope you enjoy.

Thanks, Sean, for writing this blog – we’ve loved having the exhibition back in the building.

Balance will be at Bargehouse (London) from:

1-2 July 11:30am-7pm

3 July 11:30am-4:30pm

For more information Click here.

Take a look at our website to learn more about studying Design for Performance.

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