GOOD NATURED: design art architecture celebrates creative projects by designers, artists and architects working to design a better future — these practitioners are focussed on creating outcomes that are both beautiful and good for the planet.
The exhibition was produced with the intention to minimise environmental impact. Following the path of our participants, every element was considered, and its impact measured, from the furniture to the future freight. This is ADC’s good natured action.
A collective of creative people united in this view worked with the ADC team to make this exhibition with the lowest possible carbon footprint.
The industry focussed panels held in July and August 2023, pulled apart this process and discussed sustainable exhibition design and production for the future.
These conversations were led by ADC CEO and Artistic Director, Lisa Cahill with guests including GOOD NATURED guest curator, Liane Rossler, exhibition designer Maria Mosquera and exhibition production partner Trevor Vyner from Signwave Newtown.
Lisa opened the first conversation explaining our original intention to only include projects and people with environmentally responsible and sustainable practice and the realisation that the exhibition itself also needed to follow this principle.
Key takeaways from both conversations included working together to share resources, planned reuse of exhibition furniture and early design meetings with the whole production team to consider its future circularity and sustainability.
The below is a transcript of these two events.
Panel One: Wednesday 26 July 2023
Lisa: Sustainability – what does it mean to you and how do you practice this in your lives?
Trevor: Operating locally, avoiding waste, considering materials used. Ultimately, client demand drives us to learn more about sustainability and what they decide what to invest in.
Liane: Sustainability means continuing to exist as humans on the earth. I consider every single thing I do as to its impact and won’t do a project if it doesn’t have a beneficial outcome.
Maria: The ability to use resources that won’t affect those in the future. In everyday life, this project has really opened my eyes as I probably haven’t been so good day to day.
Lisa: Is sustainability inherent in the design process and if not, what are some of the questions designers should be asking to make it so?
Liane: Every time you make a decision you can make change.
Maria: No, following the clients brief needs to be challenged more.
Trevor: We’re reliant on the designer and client. If involved earlier in the process, as we were with GOOD NATURED, it’s more possible.
Maria: Design needs to be better considered from the inception of the brief.
Lisa: Liane, can you describe the fundamental principles we sought to embed in this project?
We tried to consider every single sustainability aspect including:
- Good natured artists who were good natured in all aspects of their life
- minimising freight and anything that used fossil fuels we avoided on that basis
- natural and sustainable materials were super important
- because of the nature and amount of content, it was important that the exhibition was immersive, and that people felt safe and secure inside the space. An escape from the busy intersection and urban environment outside
- The wallpaper design is handmade, touch and tactility were important. Being surrounded by the natural sends a message.
- All gallery lights went off at the end of day
- We aimed to create zero landfill
Lisa: Maria, what was your take on it?
Maria: I worked closely with Trevor on all the materials to create a flat pack exhibition to reduce the freight for touring. The panels were designed to create no waste – we used full material sheets/panels. We used brass screws, no glue, non-toxic inks and made sure it was all recyclable.
Trevor: ‘A’ sizes generally used in design are not efficient and don’t actually match the sizes of materials supplied. They create waste.
With GOOD NATURED we kept prices down with a flexible spread sheet that we shared with ADC so they could expand and contract the items that they thought they could work with. This saved a lot of work going back and forth doing scenario modelling and allowed ADC/Maria to decide what to lose or be creative with.
Lisa: There were also minimal artworks in the show. We produced a show that could showcase the participants with few artefacts to reduce freight.
Liane: We avoided flights around the opening. Honey Fingers – Nic Dowse drove his work up and so did John Gertsakis and a number of the artists were local. Dale Hardiman doesn’t fly anywhere and hasn’t flown for several years.
Lisa: How successful were we and what should we do differently next time?
Maria: GOOD NATURED is before and after for me. I’ve been awakened - less is more. I need to consider the impact of the design and make sure it has the extra wow factor by using sustainable materials.
Liane: To design something that’s harder to achieve is challenging but also more exciting. Being able to live on a habitable, beautiful planet is the new luxury.
Trevor: This project has been inspiring and visibly lifted our employees respect for their work. It’s given them resolve to go back to other more difficult sustainability projects and rethink them. It’s much easier to make less sustainably – much cheaper and faster. GOOD NATURED created a good feeling - they were all invested, and it was a good natured experience. But we did it the hard way to learn.
Lisa: So, the exhibition was successful in outcome but of course had challenges and lessons for next time.
Trevor: The outcomes for us included:
- Minimal resource use but a lot of effort
- The learnings were worthwhile
- The main challenge is time, as soon as time is compressed its cheaper to be wasteful
- It’s much smarter to start earlier and work together
Maria: It was eye opening for me that the eco design was affordable and this process gave me the time to learn better ways and use of materials. As an example, I now know latex inks are made from rubber which is sustainable.
Trevor: And don’t create the toxic fumes historically used in printing.
Lisa: From an ADC perspective, we’ll take the lessons learned from Good Natured into future exhibitions. It made us think a lot more about future production knowing more about potential materials.
Q & A/Suggestions
- Planet Protector Packaging
- Can we incorporate sustainability into our organisational KPI’s to make it happen and part of best practice process?
- Reuse of past exhibition furniture, the industry needs a platform to find and connect
- We have a big problem with waste textiles with few and expensive recycling services.
Jenny Newell, Australian Museum: It’s part of Australian Museum’s mission to make people more aware of climate issues with the Climate Solutions Centre. Jenny also runs a group, Sydney Cultural institutions for Climate Action.
Sam, Australian Museum: Benchmarking a case study is helpful – GOOD NATURED is a good example.
Sue Saxon: Sustainability should be incentivised in funding.
Trevor: Signwave incentivises sustainable products and clients requesting products forces us to push our suppliers. We’re reliant on the design community to push for the products.
Maria: We need to create a sharing culture.
Panel Two: Wednesday 30 August 2023
Lisa: This is our second panel conversation about exhibition design which came about due to so much interest in the first. For quite a while now, ADC has been looking at everything we do through a sustainability lens. A current example is the exhibition furniture we are reconditioning for our upcoming touring show, MAKE Award.
Maria and Trevor, following GOOD NATURED, what do you now take into consideration regarding sustainability?
Maria: I’ve been trying to make better choices since working on GOOD NATURED. I can’t do it with all exhibitions as sometimes they have to tour for seven years but I’ve been thinking about where the materials will go at end of life, how I can simplify, can it be reused.
Sustainability needs to be considered in the brief – at the start of the process. How much energy will be used, can we reduce travel, etc.
Lisa: Trevor, can you talk about Signwave’s philosophy?
Trevor: We’re inspired by our clients and thinking about how they do things more efficiently, elegantly, and sustainably is commercially motivated. It’s not just the exhibition you see that becomes production waste, but all the signage waste created in the lead up. Clients often don’t know the impact of their decision making.
GOOD NATURED was a pivotal change in working closely with ADC. Previously, we were just changing out materials, swapping like for like but to really have impact a lot of design needs to be rethought in the first place.
The other consideration is using closed loop materials. Often suppliers say materials are recyclable but there are no available facilities to recycle them.
Lisa: It seems more lead time is important for the design process and all the producers involved.
Trevor: Longer lead time will always reduce carbon footprint and we need to keep in mind that using new materials is a risk.
This is a learning from GOOD NATURED. Natural fibre based product versus a stable plastic product creates the risk of materials stretching or expanding.
Lisa: Trevor, tell us about the materials that you would now recommend.
Trevor: Moving to fibre based materials and away from PVC to polypropylene. Fibre is card and paper, but we still need to consider where it comes from, is it travelling far and creating carbon. Aluminium is recyclable, and the wallpaper we can use is fibre based and easy to use for intro panels.
Clients also need to consider the release paper used with vinyl – which also can’t be recycled.
There are three types of inks – solvent based, latex (water based) and UV. Signwave focusses on latex for vibrant colours and its non-toxic with no fumes.
Q & A:
Question: Does the recyclable wallpaper have outdoor applications?
Trevor: Currently, the wallpaper has no outdoor application, but this technology is on the way. No adhesive polypropylene has a closed loop process for billboards with a non PVC film. However, supply is demand driven and industry can influence this demand.
I personally want to walk into a place and know it was made with the future in mind.
Julie Stinson, Australian Museum: We’re looking to share resources and are wondering how everyone is recycling and what materials everyone is using for their long-term exhibitions?
Lisa: As mentioned, we always look to what we have first and for our upcoming MAKE Award exhibition, we are refurbishing a set of furniture that has already been reused several times.
Maria: The Maritime Museum has put together a great list of recyclable products.
Trevor: Lisa recently came up with the idea of reusing acrylic artist labels by sanding them back and reprinting.
Lisa: The challenge is when you want something to look different. Maria, do you have any quick thoughts about how to do this?
Maria: Changing small elements and colour can be enough to give an exhibition a different feel.
Trevor: Signwave don’t charge for research and development time. It’s an investment as far as we’re concerned. Testing is an investment for our long-term clients. People get smart when in a workshop environment so we should brainstorm:
- How could we rethink exhibitions
- How could we collaborate with resources
We could run a materials workshop once a quarter. We recently met with Julie from the Australian Museum in a workshop to solve some problems.
Lisa: Until GOOD NATURED, I hadn’t thought of using Signwave to create structures.
Trevor: Engaging early saves everyone time. Our team thrives on challenges and Covid really hurt their creativity.
Pamela Amores, Museum of History: We make a lot of A-frames for Sydney open events – what does Signwave recommend here?
Trevor: Replace A-frame corflute inserts with a fibre based recyclable product. Snowboard or Dboard outdoor, by Ball and Doggett, can be used outdoors for up to 12 weeks.
Jenny Newell, Australian Museum: I have some travelling dioramas about 50 x 50cm that tour in a Prius. Is there a cardboard plinth that can be flat packed and easily built with graphics?
Trevor: We have lots of flatpack options. They're light to manoeuvre and can be packed safely in protective sleeves. We can even use fixings like brass screws.
Lisa: There’s been some great insight tonight and we’re all looking forward to Signwave’s workshop. We’ll have to hold you to that, Trevor! Thank you all for coming.
Maria Mosquera is an award winning designer, director of Maria Mosquera Design + Illustration, an independent design practice operating since 2011. With over 20 years’ experience in graphic design, Maria specialises in exhibition design, exhibition graphics, branding, print design and illustration for the cultural sector.
After working in boutique design agencies in Canberra and Sydney and beginning her exhibition career with Freeman Ryan Design in 2007, Maria has developed exhibition graphics and collateral design for prominent cultural institutions in Australia and overseas. Her bold and vibrant approach to imagery and typography combine successfully with meticulous attention to detail and a comprehensive knowledge of exhibition development and print production management.
Liane Rossler is an artist, designer and curator who has worked in creative industries for over thirty years and has spent the last fifteen years focused on projects that intersect art, design, and the environment. She is guest curator of GOOD NATURED design art architecture.
Alongside her solo creative practice, which is focused on beneficial and beautiful sustainable design, she is founder of Superlocalstudio which inspires collaborative, socially engaged cultural and creative projects for diverse audiences.
Trevor has a corporate background in manufacturing, sales and distribution in high growth and turnaround engagements. He has held senior roles including CEO of Sebel Furniture and Head of Strategy and Business Development for Corporate Express/Staples. Since 2019, Trevor has been co-owner of SIGNWAVE Newtown, a specialist signage and graphics company.
His decision to leave the corporate world and embark on an entrepreneurial journey was driven in no small part by a desire to be more directly involved in creating a more culturally and economically vibrant Sydney. A key focus of the team is collaborating with its customers and suppliers to develop more sustainable outcomes in an industry that is traditionally plastic-heavy and high in waste.