Back to the future….

This post comes to you from the EcoMuseum

Identity: yours mine ours is well on the way to an April launch, but it’s not just the multicultural community who have a keen interest in the exhibition. The project team’s open-minded approach to innovation has cultural and environmental organisations eager to investigate the exhibition’s environmentally sustainable build and finish.

One of the more experimental and highly successful decisions the project team made was to use a signwriter instead of traditional large format printing. Identity has been designed by graphic designer Gina Batsakis to be visually stunning, with a contemporary, highly artistic style. One thing visitors will immediately notice is the unique linework throughout the exhibition. The linework which is an original creation of Gina’s exclusively for Identity, is designed to express faces and features without the stereotypical ethnic identifiers we commonly recognise.

Gallery 3 is where the Identity linework truly comes into its own. Each wall is covered with many layers of line-faces and the design calls for a crisp, well defined finish. To produce this graphic treatment in the traditional method, scores of huge strips of self-adhesive paper would need be printed off and wrapped around 3mm MDF. The MDF graphic would then be laminated to take increased wear and tear. This method involves the depletion of a number of natural resources, like land degradation from MDF production and the coal extraction for the making of electricity used to power the printers and laminator. In addition the negative effects from toxic inks and ink off-gassing, and the excrement from coal-fired power stations are well known.

Graphics produced in this way suffer from heavy traffic – in the Immigration Museum’s case up to 1.3 million people will pass through Identity. The slightest scratch to even a single panel necessitates the entire panel’s replacement – meaning more electricity and materials. In 10 years time, when Identity completes its run to the public, those graphics would be consigned to landfill, where they would take hundreds of years to degrade, leeching their contents into the earth.

Using Bec (pictured in the gallery), our signwriter from Synthesis Design and Display, there is no printing, laminating, MDF substrates or inks involved. Bec is using water based low VOC paint, human energy and a brush. The only electricity she is using is to power a light projector onto the wall, where she traces the linework with chalk. The project team, and especially Gina, are thrilled at the high quality of the blossoming design on the gallery walls. The Immigration Museum is also thrilled because any scratch large or small can be easily touched up with only a brush and a lick of paint – barely any cost or effort at all to the museum. In fact the project team was surprised to find that using a signwriter cost no more than using the traditional print method, and this is what finally won them over and convinced them to experiment with Bec’s amazing skills.

We hope that this encourages the re-emergence of artistic signwriters, which are hard to find — in fact Bec is one of a kind, and herself is re-learning the skills she perfected a long time ago before signwriters became victims to large format printing. Hopefully the resource-hungry complexity of large format printing will be used with more discretion within the cultural organisations of Australia after they see the success of the Identity graphics, and signwriters from the old days will be brushing up their skills just as Bec has done.

the EcoMuseum, is a project of Carole Hammond, Exhibition Manager and museum professional: combining the complex ideologies of aesthetics, culture, objects, entertainment…and environment.

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