The Lead Technician on a gallery installation is the person who decides on a schedule of installation, oversees the movement of objects from various storage sites, works out challenges around specific objects, and coordinates the team of technicians to ensure the installation runs smoothly, speedily and safely! I asked Ray Powell, the Lead Technician on the Design: 1900 – Now galleries, some questions to get a sense of what the job entails and what it was like to work on these galleries.
Hi Ray! Good to chat now that we’ve opened the galleries and can admire our work! Could you start by saying a bit about your role at the V&A and the kind of work you do?
I’ve worked at the Museum as a technician now for many years and have been involved with all sorts of different projects and activities. For example, I’ve packed objects to travel to off-site stores and to countries around the world for exhibitions. I’ve also worked on quite a few installations and deinstallations – for single objects, exhibitions, and galleries – as well as being the Lead Technician on various projects.
What were the skills and training that you need to do this role?
A lot of skills and experience are gained with years of moving objects around the Museum and stores, working with colleagues and sharing knowledge and skills. A knowledge of the equipment we need to use, like MEWPs (Moving Elevated Working Platforms), is also required. The Museum also has training programmes which I attend to keep up to date with changes in procedures or policies and to learn about the latest developments in collections care.
As the Lead Technician for the install of the ‘Design: 1900 – Now’ gallery project – could tell me how you go about Leading a project like this, what kind of things do you have to consider?
I attended planning meetings with various departments. This helped me envisage and plan how to install a variety of objects, many of which had never entered the Museum before. Part of this planning is also calculating the number of Technicians needed, and when.
Is this kind of project a usual part of your work?
Yes – this kind of planning and scheduling is done by Lead Technicians and Managers. What’s not so usual is the adaptations we’ve had to make because of the pandemic – which have been a challenge at times.
I think we were all faced with different challenges delivering a project in the midst of a global pandemic! What unusual challenges did you and your team face as a result of Covid-19?
The global pandemic brought many challenges. We had to form working bubbles while keeping to Government and Museums guidelines. A particularly challenging restriction was that we were only allowed to have two people in the cases in Gallery 74 per day – there were no exceptions, even for a 120kg Amazon Robot! Naturally, we also had mandatory face masks and regular hand sanitising!
What do you think are the qualities that make a good Lead Technician?
I think someone who is open to discussions from other colleagues and departments. It’s important to listen to the different views of team members and to recognise their skill sets – that’s the best way to a positive outcome.
Also, someone who is calm and looks for solutions when things (inevitably) don’t always go according to plan.
What were the most enjoyable elements of working on this project?
Working with so many different departments and colleagues is an enjoyable part of projects like this one, as well as the extraordinary objects we have the privilege of installing.
And finally – did any of the objects catch your eye? Do you have a personal favourite?
I not sure I have a personal favourite object. The variety of objects in the Galleries is amazing which makes it almost impossible to pick out a favourite. If I did have to point to a few though, the ones that stand out are the Amazon Robot, the Biomega Bike, the Concrete Stereo, and the Mae West Lips sofa.
Thanks Ray! It was great to hear about the project from your perspective.
If this chat has inspired your curiosity, the galleries are now open to visit! Or, if you can’t make it in person, you can find out more about the project on our Design: 1900 – Now web pages.