As the impending opening date suggests, the project has very definitely moved into a new phase since the days we were only allowed to go on site in guided groups, sporting hi-viz, helmets, steel toe-caps, goggles and gloves.
Since then, the architectural features of the original Aston Webb interior have been restored; the main structures of the galleries have been reconditioned and, where necessary, reinforced to safely accommodate objects; a new gallery has been created from previous back-of-house ‘plant room’ space; new lighting has been fitted; new walls have been constructed; and a host of other activities have taken place … Phew!
Following the work dealing with the fabric of the building, other work has been taking place, including the installation of the period rooms, which Lizzie wrote about here back in July, and also the arrival of The Globe.
Today I thought I’d take you on a quick journey through some of the activities that have been taking place in the galleries over the past few weeks, as we have prepared for and embarked on installation.Obviously, before installation of objects is possible, the spaces and mechanisms for safely housing the objects need to be built and installed. This includes plinths, cases, brackets, shelves and stands. The cases needed to be built up in the gallery space.
Glasbau Hahn have been building the cases and it has been really interesting to watch them put together these complex, yet visually simple, structures piece by piece. I’ve particularly admired their very precise, calm and methodical way of working.
Once cases are built and ready for use, it is important that the curators and supporting technicians fully understand how to safely open/close and unlock/lock them. The opening and locking mechanisms differ slightly for the different case designs. Hahn took us clearly through the process for each case type.
For objects that are to be displayed on the backs of cases, secure mount attachments need to be drilled into the case backboards. To ensure that holes are drilled in exactly the right spot, the technicians mock-up the case backboard on a wood panel covered in a transparent film. They attach the mounts in their planned position and we check whether we feel that this positioning still works. Once the exact position for the mount is agreed, the required holes are marked-up on the film to create a 1:1 template guide for drilling the actual case backboard.
Prior to their installation, objects from different departments need to be gathered together in readiness for going into the cases. Coordinating this can entail some mean logistical skills to avoid maneuvering objects through the galleries during opening hours. Once in the galleries, they are temporarily placed in storage cases before moving on into their brand new homes.
We are installing the galleries in numeric order, starting with Gallery 1. This meant that some of the first object deliveries down to the galleries brought together a curious combination of objects, as intricate, small silver buttons destined for Local Traditions sat alongside a ‘balloonmania’ flower pot and a neoclassical egg-cup.