The most risen of the rising stars, Ab Rogers, has been around the block a few times. He left school at 15, picked up hammer and chisel and trained as a cabinet maker, and set up a multidisciplinary design and production company in Liverpool. He then sailed the world before returning to London to study for an MA in Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art. These days, he has his own studio, Ab Rogers Design, a multidisciplinary practice that covers graphics, product design, interior design, packaging design, installations and branding, as well as exhibition design.
Rogers secured his first significant exhibition, Brilliant at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in 2004. Since then, alongside his other work, his exhibitions and exhibits have included an interactive multimedia installation for the Science Museum CSR MacRobert Award, which explained and illustrated how a silicon chip works, and a redevelopment of the third and fifth floor concourses at Tate Modern. He also designed a major retrospective for his father, Richard Rogers, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which opened last November. ‘It was really interesting, but hard work,’ Rogers says of the retrospective. ‘Artists who are alive see their work in such a personal way, so trying to make it objective is the hardest thing. You need to give some kind of intellectual credibility to it. You need to keep a distance.’
At the moment, Rogers is preparing an exhibition about the history of the moving image for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne, due to open next Easter. It is his biggest exhibition to date in terms of budget and square footage (about 2000 m2), and Rogers says that displaying and conveying the 150-plus years of cinema, television, media art, computers and gaming have proved a challenge. ‘You want an exciting environment that doesn’t feel like the Trocadero’, he says. ‘You have to be very sensitive and choose the material with respect. But you also have to create a strong design language that guides the audience through the space and lets them discover the excitement of the material.’ At the exhibition, that language is inspired by an abstraction of the Australian landscape, adds Rogers, with a soft, flowing aesthetic.
The project also illustrates Rogers’ belief that play is a vital consideration in exhibition design. ‘Being playful with the content is really important,’ he says. ‘We want people to engage in an exhibition. You don’t want to patronise them, and it’s easier to inspire through play than it is through knowledge.’
Given such considerations, coupled with the many constraints of exhibition design, such as budget and health and safety – Rogers agrees that his field requires a certain experience. ‘You need to understand the balance between the content, the design and the interpretation,’ he says, and the more limitations, the better. ‘It would be easy to be given a project with an unlimited budget, but you wouldn’t actually come up with anything brilliant,’ he explains. ‘With constraints, you have to start thinking and that’s when you use a more vigorous intellectual process and come up with better ideas.’