Organizing an exhibition is no small deal. This is why it might be helpful to look back and see what could be learned from organizing a big exhibition in Oxford.
First of all, it is essential to select the works for the show, in my case, the 32 works have been selected to give a fair representation to all different ‘ecosystem services’ the exhibition and the accompanying ECOSYSTEMS book were trying to portray. The good format finally selected were one or several images per chapter (for ‘biological diversity’ or ‘pollination’ or ‘oxygen production’ I have selected more than one).
It was clear that with a subject of the show firmly linking the art and the science, it will be necessary to provide some explanations so that the visitors would get a better understanding of the concept after reading the labels. I made a decision to include the texts from the book in the labels for exactly this purpose.
Now comes the question of interacting with designers: we have understood that several major tasks were to be completed: we needed the good exhibition labels, a nice poster, a press-release and some slides for the forthcoming presentation. The first lesson learnt is clearly that working with designers is very much a collaborative experience: don’t expect to give a clear brief and receive a finished product. What happened was that a brief resulted in several alternative design options for a poster for example. We have selected 2, which had the strongest potential and then worked on refining each, making texts more readable, the message clearer and the visual presentation more striking, ultimately choosing the final version that were gracing the bars and cafes of Oxford for a few weeks.
The other thing that I learned was that everything has to be checked probably 5 times, because mistakes do happen, whether it is spelling, making sure that all the important details are present or the exact way those social media icons look. We have been ultimately able to design very informative labels that the visitors took considerable time studying and a good press-release that had improved design compared from previous years.
The hanging system should not be ignored and we were particularly lucky because the venue had large scale transparent folders where my photographs fitted perfectly and the images were simply taken out at the end of the exhibition and stored safely. It would have been difficult to exhibit images that large without such a hanging system in place.
The other essential element is reaching our to your audience. It would have been ideal to have a larger network of dedicated social media supporters, but in the absence of those, one has to simply rely on the available resources: friends and acquaintances, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn circles, Instagram images and so on. In my case, what is important is that the outreach hasn’t stopped with the closing of the exhibition: I am still discussing the project and showing images at various public events related to the environment. The next one will take place in Dubai in March 2019. This way, I will continue generating interest in the project, informing different audiences both geographically and professionally.
(c) Dr Stanislav Shmelev, image made at the ‘ECOSYSTEMS’ exhibition, Oxford, 2018