An online Risograph art show aptly demonstrates we don't always need galleries.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Not having access to physical spaces has seen artists like Cabeza Patata and Stephanie Unger turn to using the Animal Crossing game space as a gallery one, while creative colleges are turning to virtual grad shows as a way to celebrate their best new arts and design talent.
Artists finding creative solutions to vexing challenges, who'd have thought – and it's not just graduates and established talent getting in on the action. For example, see Self-risolation, an inspired virtual exhibit of positioning posters by Kingston School of Art's second year Graphic Designers.
Originally tasked with designing for Risograph, the students' ability to meet the brief became somewhat hindered by the current Covid-19 lockdown. Determined that the show must go on, the Kingston crew brought their Riso posters to a digital platform so that they can be shared as originally intended, using only colours available in Risograph printing as a homage to the original objectives of the brief, as well as a reminder of the posters’ intended format.
"The exhibition of our posters had been an exciting date in the diary and so we all agreed that we didn't want to completely abandon the idea," I'm told in a group email from the students. "The tutors suggested that we somehow transform it into a digital exposition and we formed a small design team.
"They were happy as always to facilitate this in any way that they could but the design process was strongly student-led."
The website was launched with a virtual premiere on April 9th, and in order to keep the fun of a private view, the students set up various 'spaces' to hangout and chat with the designers.
"We did this through the use of illustrations representing popular hangout spots such as 'the bar' and 'the loo'. Once clicked on, these illustrations took you to Zoom.
"We basically were just all on a massive video conference, all together drinking beers and discussing what everyone was up to at home. It was a nice time to connect as a year group."
Great concept, good times – and delightful art to boot. Kingston must be teaching Riso with aplomb.
"We have an amazing A2 Riso printer at uni," the designers confirm. "We think it has a unique printed quality, with the vivid colours and layered ink process giving it a distinctive visual identity. We also love how it is an environmentally-friendly print method, an aspect that is incredibly important to many of us as designers.
"As the brief was to originally print the process in Riso, we gave the designers a colour palette of 12 colours that are available in Riso printing. This helped our posters to reflect what is possible through this printing method even though we were not able to use it, as well as helping to provide them with a collective identity."
With everyone on board, the next step was to create the website itself in a way that recreated the physical gallery experience. From poster design to UX design, as it were.
"It was difficult to make sure that everyone's work was displayed as in a 'proper' art show. We used the gif that you see when you first go on the site to display everyone's posters in alphabetical order, to give viewers a little preview of what is to come.
"We liked how the scrolling action of viewing a web page is quite similar to that of walking through a gallery. We designed it so that you see multiple posters on your screen at one time, mimicking the walls in a traditional gallery whilst also highlighting the fact that these posters exist as a collection but are all so individually unique.
"Clicking on any poster makes it pop up which allows visitors to the site to view it as a single poster and to appreciate it in more detail as you might do in an art show if you are particularly interested in one piece. But whilst we wanted to pay homage to the traditional art show, we also wanted to exploit some of the capabilities that a digital platform offers.
"Providing visitors with the opportunity to move the posters about on the screen and therefore manipulate to layout of the 'gallery' is a way to play with the format and reflect upon the benefits of having the exhibition online."
Still, despite the success of the viewing and the website as a whole, the Kingston sophomores aren't sure if the same lessons can be applied to virtual grad shows.
"As a team, we really feel for the third year students who are now having to accept this as the new reality after three long years of working towards and looking forward to designing, building and celebrating their achievements through a degree show exhibition.
"Our exhibition was somewhat easier to digitise than a final year degree show. This is as the content lends itself well to being displayed online as the posters were designed digitally and therefore can exist happily in a 2D setting, requiring little additional input from their context or other factors such as audience-interaction.
"This being said, the project has made us reflect upon the issues relating to the traditional format of grad show exhibitions," they continue. "We have come to realise that these paradigms are far from imperfect, often favouring students with work that fits naturally within a gallery context, as well as those with the best facilities and the most time and money to put into the showcase of their work.
"Therefore, a digital exhibition like Self-risolation could be a more democratic and accessible format, creating equal opportunities for all students and all types of design. It also means that people from all circumstances can encounter and enjoy the work, regardless of disabilities, distance and commitments.
"The project therefore presents an interesting suggestion for how one might digitise an exhibition and the benefits of doing it through this format. It is definitely a model that could be built upon and developed for a degree show, although we feel that the social element of these celebrations between tutors, students, friends and family is really difficult to replicate through such a format."