Fabric of frenzy

September 21, 2015

IMG_1054This picture says it all: the remains of a breakfast of coffee, half a croissant and some jelly babies, and a lunch of chips and lemonade.  Installations are always somewhat frantic and this one is no different.  That said, in spite of the long days and limited access to proper meals, it is really exciting to see everything coming together at last.  In the manner of the free magazines on the tube below is a ‘day in the life’ of our team whilst installing a show.

The morning briefing under the tent canopyOlivia, the Exhibition Manager, and myself have a 06:00 start to get in for 08:00.  We tend to eat breakfast when we get to work whilst catching up on emails.  At 08:45 Olivia  delivers the morning briefing to our team of conservators, technicians and curators.  She outlines what we have to install and any prep work required for the following day and shares.  We usually work in two or three teams led by someone from the Exhibitions department whose role it is to co-ordinate everyone and everything.  Looking after a national collection we have to be extremely careful about the handling, safety an security of objects, so there are many rigid processes to which we must adhere – this can make for slow progress at times.

We often stagger the handover of galleries from the contractors and I spent part of last week working with the designer and the contractors to identify outstanding works,  snagging, and ultimately sign off the gallery build.   The build is now finished and looks really beautiful:










Some of our objects are bigger than others and take a lot longer to install.  Our biggest is Tipu’s tent, a generous loan from the National Trust.  We’ve been planning its installation for over a year and finally it is up – the sketches that we posted here in October are now coming to life:








A piece of the installation schedule
A piece of the installation schedule

Throughout the day we receive deliveries of incoming loans and so are in constant contact with transport agents and lenders.  Many of the incoming objects on loan from other institutions and collections are accompanied by couriers who oversee the installation of their objects alongside our staff.  All this means a lot of careful coordination and a need to be flexible to rearrange the enormous installation schedule if things don’t go quite to plan.


Installing the section on DyeWP_20150916_11_36_30_Pro


We work with the technicians and conservators throughout the day installing objects and labels til 17:00 and sometimes later.  Once our work in the galleries is done we go back to our desks to plan the schedule for the next day, and make internal bookings to use high level working equipment, secure electrical services or get lighting focussed.

We usually leave around seven or eight in the evening if everything has gone smoothly – though often much later if it hasn’t…  These late evenings tend to be sustained by a variety of confectionery currently stashed in my bottom desk drawer.  The favourite on this project are jelly caterpillars; it turns out you can get almost anything done in exchange for a jelly caterpillar.  There is little time at the moment to do anything after work except sleep and getting home at nine or later has resulted in some rather odd evening meals.  Last Thursday night I was eating takeaway sushi in bed at midnight whilst Olivia texted me to say she was devouring a portion of toast and shortbread.

On the upside it is looking beautiful (though we say so ourselves) and there is only a week left. It feels a little like the last twenty minutes of an exam: you are in equal measures relieved –  in twenty minutes it will all be over –  and alarmed – that you have a mere twenty minutes to get it all done…


About the author

September 21, 2015

I am a Senior Exhibitions Coordinator which means that I have a hand in the delivery of a wide variety of exhibitions showing at South Kensington and on tour to...

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