Reflections on Paolozzi exhibition install: Designing the Display Cases

My name is Holly Fairbairn, and I am a final year Ancient History student at the University of Birmingham and a volunteer with the Research and Cultural Collections (RCC) team. I got involved through the placement module in my second year as I wanted to get experience in the heritage sector, and have continued volunteering with them since that placement ended. During my time with the team I have helped in several different projects, ranging from documentation tasks, auditing, site visits and my personal favourite installing exhibitions within the university. I have assisted with quite a few installs and de-installs whilst working with RCC, the most recent being the works by Eduardo Paolozzi.

Helping with the installation of the Paolozzi exhibition was a unique experience, quite different from the other installations I have assisted with in the past. The works were colourful and were a joy to quality check and look over before preparing them to be positioned. This involved making sure we had all of the pieces we had planned to bring over and ensure that they were in good condition to be displayed.

Holly and Prue helping with the initial installation of the Paolozzi exhibition, laying out the prints in order to be mounted onto the wall.

Although this was an interesting job, the main task for the other volunteers and I was to sort out the two display cases. Where other exhibitions called for uniformity, Paolozzi was about eccentric ideas and combining things that were not normally put together. Alongside this, we had to consider which documents best represented the relationship between Paolozzi and the University which included a lot of sitting down and discussing ideas whilst making stencils to use in the case.

This eccentric nature of Paolozzi’s work meant that arranging the small display case was an interesting challenge. We started by categorising the objects as we would normally, and then mixing and matching until we were happy with the combination of themes, sizes and positions which we felt best represented the ideals of such an incredible artist. This was quite difficult to get my head around at first but I loved going through the different combinations with Niall and Prue (the other volunteers working with me) and I can honestly say I am happy with how the display ended up looking and feel like we all did a good job at representing Paolozzi with our layout.

The final arrangement of one of the display cases, with Paolozzi’s pieces carefully laid out by the volunteers.

One of my favourite objects was actually in the case with the documents and this was the bright pink case that the works were originally stored in. Not only does the case perfectly represent the overall feel of the works, but I also love the idea of how they were originally stored. Originally the works were all printed separately and kept in no particular order so the viewer could interpret them however they wished. This was another reason why it was so fun to work on this exhibition, as it enabled us volunteers to create our own interpretation with the objects as we would when viewing his art for the first time.

Holly working on the display case for the documents relating to the artist Paolozzi.

The reason that installs are one of my favourite tasks during volunteering is that being able to help in the installation of exhibits is such an amazing experience, as you get to come face to face with some amazing artefacts and art pieces and are able to interact with them in a way that not many others do. Not only this but it enables you to get a better understanding on what goes on behind the scenes and provides a real sense of accomplishment, especially when you see your name credited in one of the cases.


For more information about volunteering and student projects with Research and Cultural Collections, check out the website:

RCC would like to thank Holly Fairbairn, Niall Gallen and Prudence Griffin for their hard work and curation of the objects on display!