Museum life: When exhibitions travel

In 2010 I worked on Frock Stars, an exhibition celebrating 15 years of Australian Fashion Week. A collaboration with IMG Fashion and industry leaders, the exhibition explored the history, highlights, scandals and sensations of Australian Fashion Week between 1995 and 2010.  The exhibition design and content of Frock Stars gave the visitor an interactive experience of the different aspects that make up Australian Fashion Week. There was a catwalk with 15 garments, a front row with ‘front rower’ interviews, a backstage area, a VIP bar for visitors to relax in and a replica of fashion designer, Nicola Finetti’s studio. A behind-the-scenes look at Fashion Week, Frock Stars allowed visitors to explore and experience aspects of this industry only, closed-to-the public event.

15 years of fashion, Frock stars- Inside Australian Fashion Week Photo: Geoff Friend, Powerhouse Museum

Front row, Frock stars- Inside Australian Fashion Week Photo: Geoff Friend, Powerhouse Museum

Backstage, Frock stars- Inside Australian Fashion Week Photo: Geoff Friend, Powerhouse Museum

Due to interactive nature of this exhibition, it was designed for a specific space. When it was decided that Frock Stars would travel to regional and interstate venues in Australia there were many questions as to how the exhibition would translate into a touring exhibition. How would the exhibition fit into multiple venues? How can fewer staff install the exhibition? Will the content make sense if reduced? How can audiovisuals be included with limited technical assistance during installation? What about showcases and equipment which, are being used for other exhibitions? Can loan and licensing agreements be extended?

Not everything can travel and it was up to the exhibition team including curators, registrars and designers to work through and find solutions for these issues. There were also some key parts to the exhibition that had to be retained to keep the integrity of the original curatorial concept. This included the front row and back stage spaces which, gave visitors an experience of the entire production of fashion week. These parts of the exhibition however were bulky and unable to travel. The exhibition team had previously talked about different ways that this part of the exhibition could still travel but it wasn’t until the designers came on board that solutions were devised. There can sometimes be natural conflict between the curatorial and design departments when putting together an exhibition. Designers can be focused on the ‘look’ of an exhibition while curators focus on the content. Luckily with this exhibition, on both the original and the traveling versions, the designers understood the importance of the different aspects of the curatorial content and sort solutions to make them work within the exhibition space.

The result for the touring Frock Stars is a slightly smaller exhibition with key components included, but reduced in size. For example the catwalk and front row have become one aspect of the exhibition rather than separate in the original plans. Some of the audiovisual footage will be made into large printed images and the exhibition structure is compact and light. I am constantly amazed by the solutions designers come up to tricky problems and I think that those who see the traveling version of the exhibition will get a similar experience to the original.

Frock Stars will go on the road shortly and it will be a fantastic exhibition to have in regional and interstate Australia, showing how far the Australian fashion industry has come over the last 15 years. Travelling this exhibition has also been a test for the exhibition team, working out how to travel a complex exhibition to fit multiple spaces and equipment. It will be fascinating to see the exhibition as it travels to different venues.

First image: Entrance, Frock stars- Inside Australian Fashion Week Photo: Geoff Friend, Powerhouse Museum

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