FREE RANGE – musings of an art writer

Almost exactly this time last year, I was lucky enough to be part of the Architecture and Interior Design strand of the appropriately named Free Range exhibitions.

At the time, the thing I loved most about being part of such an event was the palpable energy that seemed to radiate from each University’s space, each student and each piece of work. It is quite unique to partake in such a huge celebration of creativity, and not just with those who have seen you through your tutorials, printing disasters and crits. Back then it reminded me of how many other people had dealt with the same worries and woes of not hitting their deadlines, struggling to figure out AutoCad, and getting uhu stuck to everything they own. In a way, it made the most difficult periods of my degree feel, in retrospect, less lonely.

Last week when I attended Free Range, I was unclouded by the then daunting life shift from University to adulthood (and from the fuzzy head I got from the red wine we managed to stock up on for the opening night). I found myself admiring Free Range for reasons beyond the celebration and reunion with my peers. The energy that came from watching graduates collectively celebrate their hard work still shone through this year, but now as an outsider to this, I realised it’s value in helping student progress into a creative career. Take, for instance, how many of my peers got into their Architecture placements purely by leaving a business card by their work, or conversing with those who took interest. This setting is far less formal that an interview or application, and that’s something that should be embraced. Due to Free Range’s size and diversity in work, there’s always a high footfall of scouts and it’s important to put your best foot forward and hope to get it wedged in the right door that’ll take you onto your next step.

If you choose to get involved, grad shows can also be a great experience is exercising your curatorial muscles too. There was a relatively small number of people on my graduate committee, but I loved the experience of being given an amazing, industrial, open plan space at the Truman Brewery and working together to figure out how to showcase our graduate projects. I helped design and build my own and I could not recommend this more highly to future students. It’s about putting your stamp on your show. Making it stand out and be noticed. And this leads me onto the next point of why I value Free Range. Due to the freedom the students are given, it is, quite simply, a fun exhibition. The variety in layout, display of the work and decoration of the spaces makes it easy for anyone to enjoy; be that student, graduate, family, future employer or design enthusiast. This year echoed last year in the same way. A mix of styles, arrangements, techniques, structures and curatorial qualities. Some may view it as a mish mash, but I admire how unrestricted the students are in making their space their own. In the same way that I enjoy the RCAs Summer Exhibition, a change and different surprise would be waiting around each corner you turned.

For me Free Range’s ability to give students a platform to celebrate in vast numbers, showcase their work to future employers and stamp their mark on the composition of their grad show, makes it one of the most enjoyable graduate exhibitions. I was happy to have been part of it, happy to see how much good it still does, and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Words: Mary Howell