We asked Dave Thomas our building technician a few questions about the one of the busiest and exciting times in the gallery - exhibitions changeover
As part of Huang Yong Ping's exhibition - an elephant and a cockpit of an American aeroplane left the building yesterday – were you looking forward to moving them out of the galleries?
It is nice in some ways to get them out of the building, but we were sad to see them go. For the elephant to leave the building we had to remove the front doors as it was too large for our goods lift - and the sculpture weighs close to 1000kg. Then we had to build the steel crate (which weighs 500kg and is six metres long) around the elephant outside the building, and fork lift it into the transportation truck to be returned to its store in Paris. The aeroplane was slightly more straightforward. I guess I could say that I was looking forward to taking it down, but only because it means that we can build something else in its place!
How would you describe the installation for the next exhibition, Jean Genet?
We have a number of technically challenging works coming up in the next show. There are plinths to make, which will be used to house the Giacometti sculptures. Marc Camille Chaimowicz will be wallpapering the gallery walls - removing it afterwards might be a challenge! Also I am fabricating a new commissioned work for Lili Reynaud-Dewar - I can’t give too many details of this away before the show opens, all I can say is that it’s a large scale piece which is made of steel, wood and fabric and in total weighs close to two tonnes.
What have you been working on to prepare for the Jean Genet installation?
I have been finishing the welding and engineering for Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s new commission, this involved processing over a tonne of steelwork, and custom fabricating over 100 individual pieces to make up an internal framework system. I have also been finalising CAD designs for the exhibition build, ordering materials to construct a new cinema room in Gallery 1, pre-fabricating the framework for this construction and processing timber sheet stocks for the Giacometti plinths.
How far in advance do you have to plan a new exhibition installation?
The plans start as soon as we know the rough outline of the exhibition; this can be anything up to 2 years in advance. If new pieces of work are being commissioned there is often a great deal of planning and engineering which needs to go into a piece of work before it reaches the fabrication process.
What part of this installation are you most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to seeing Lili’s new commission finished and constructed, it’s been quite a complicated piece to design, engineer and fabricate. All in all this process will have taken almost 6 months to pull together and as the pieces have been fabricated in different sections and stages its exciting for me to bring it all together at the end. For Lili I imagine it will also be an interesting experience as it will be the first time that she will have seen the piece in its completed form, having previously only seen certain finished elements, plans and photos etc during the fabrication stage. For an artist this can often be an exciting and a nerve wracking time, especially when your work is completely outsourced for fabrication. For myself, and other fabricators it’s a time where you share these emotions and hope that the artist is happy with what you have constructed.
What is the biggest thing you have built – in or outside of the gallery?
I used to build houses so I guess they would be the largest! In terms of my creative fabrications I guess housing the cinema space at the end of gallery 4 would be my largest internal purpose built structure. This included two new supporting walls to take a load bearing ceiling using 250mm roofing joists, full high spec acoustic treatment, an integrated air filtration system, light baffled entrance, suspended cinema screen and surround sound system. In total we processed over 10 tonnes of material for this build, and this space has now been in the gallery for over a year so it’s also the longest standing temporary structure that I have designed and built. I’m looking forward to taking it all down for the next show though, opening Gallery 4 fully again and building a new cinema space in Gallery 1.