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An exploration into exhibition space

Unispace Melbourne Designer Maddy Davidson shares her experiences creating and curating a local furniture exhibition with friend and fellow interior designer Isabel Holloway.

I’ve been a keen supporter of the Melbourne Fringe Furniture Exhibition for many years, so when Isabel and I heard the exhibition organisers were taking submissions for designers to not only create an exhibition space but also curate furniture submissions, we jumped at the chance to be involved.

The Fringe Furniture exhibition is known within the local industry as a cutting-edge display of fresh ideas from furniture and industrial designers. Having been around for 31 years, it’s one of the longest design events in Australia. 

2017’s exhibition, 'Out of the Echo Chamber', asked participating artists to “step out of the echo chamber and consider the transcendental power of design – how the practical objects we use every day (and likely take for granted) might help bring us closer and free the voice, spark conversation and give way to new kinds of communication”.

This statement formed the basis of the design concept Isabel and I put together:

“The reverberation of information can continue on and on until it has been inhaled and exhaled to an exhaustive degree. Social communication is a constant bouncing back and forth of ideas usually within our own socio-economic group. 

We absorb the information that suits us to regurgitate, which can turn into a narrow-minded opinion. But when we escape our comfort zone we begin to open our minds up to new ways of thinking. It was Socrates that said, ‘I know that I know nothing.’ 

Our concept is about creating a platform for the works that reflects changing and evolving design. They sit individually as refined pieces of art but together form a narrative that echoes the here and now."

Photos courtesy Theresa Harrison, Melbourne Fringe Furniture Exhibition, Abbotsford Convent

This design concept was realised in the exhibition space design by utilising repeated materials arranged in differing configurations - like information being spoken, picked up, repeated and repeated again; each time a detail changing, making the story more and more exaggerated. 

The materials began with hints of colour and, as the arrangements shifted, became a vibrant pink. A composition of soft delicate fabrics and hard building materials expanded and contracted within the space, opposing the beautiful and historical site of Rosina Auditorium and the experimental submitted works. The bright electric colours didn’t dominate the space, but rather served as delightful embellishments.

On a practical level, Isabel and I worked in collaboration with the Exhibition Associate Director and the Exhibition Designer, creating a floor plan to showcase the 11 chosen artists to best advantage, while also remaining aware of budgeting costs. Communication was also a key element as we were responsible for articulating the design concept to the artists.​

All-in-all this was an amazing experience. Having the opportunity to step outside the world of commercial interior design and work within the broader arts and design community allowed me to expand my knowledge of how to form spaces. It’s one thing to design something, but to also physically build and curate a space – to get your hands dirty – then you truly see how things come together in a much more realised sense.​

About Maddy Davidson

Maddy has lived and studied overseas including an exchange at the University of Edinburgh, College of Art. Since joining Unispace following graduation from RMIT in 2016 with First Class Honours, Maddy has designed projects for Westpac, Credit Suisse, Optus and Fonterra.