Monday, August 02, 2010

Getting inside a glass triangle

Arranging paper strata inside the Vitrine

I have had a crush on the Vitrine at the Waikato Museum since I first started making artist's books, which are so awkward to exhibit in conventional gallery settings. That beautiful big glass cabinet, in its prominent foyer location just looked to me like the perfect place to show my books. So about a year ago I was delighted to be invited to submit a proposal for a Vitrine Exhibition.

I put forward a proposal called 'Punctuated Equilibrium', a site-specific installation of both books and textiles and then completed almost all the pieces during my time as Writer/Artist in Residence at Hamilton Girls High School last spring and summer. I'll write more about the content of the exhibition in another post, but for now I want to tell you about the installation. It was wonderful to be working with the professionals at the Museum who made it a much easier process that other installations I have struggled though with the help of good friends but relatively few resources.

Dowel supports for paper scrolls

By far the biggest challenge of the installation was my Deep Time Scrolls: 570 metres of painted paper which I wanted to be laid out like rock strata up the back wall. Stu designed and built an structure to support the paper, and on Thursday morning Emily and I squeezed into the Vitrine to begin unrolling the scrolls. The tight, freshly painted, space was hot and stuffy and the arrangement of the paper full of awkwardness and uncertainty which made a very slow process.

Paper scrolls before installation

We were constantly interrupted, first and most significantly by the Prime Minister, John Key, who was visiting the Museum with security and ceremonial requirements that saw Em and I expelled from our install for an hour or more. (Naturally this did little drama did nothing to reverse my poor opinion of our smarmy leader). Throughout the day Emily was called away to assist other artists install their complicated entries in the NCAA. And I was also called away in the middle of the day in a futile attempt to transport My Antarctica to be photographed (a task finally completed on Sunday).

Emily, being tinier than me, bravely occupied the narrow end of the triangle for most of the day

With all these distractions and the labouriously slow paper work, it seemed criminal for me to decide in the middle that I needed to change the order of the colours on the wall. Rolling two scrolls back up and then laying them out again added another hour, though I have no regrets about that decision. It was near five by the time the back wall was finished to my satisfaction. Poor Emily called her partner to say she would be late home and spent another hour hanging four framed embroideries, a process involving some back tracking again as my original plan turned out not to be at all suitable.

Not long before I decided to rearrange the colour scheme

The pressure was on us to finish on Thursday because all the Museum staff would be away on Friday at a Treaty of Waitangi workshop. But that just wasn't possible so I came back and completed the installation alone. Well, I had the front of house staff for company, and was under the scrutiny of Museum visitors, who while less illustrious than the previous day, were more interested and outspoken. A group of pre-schoolers seemed quite amazed that there could be "a person in there".

All the kneeling, crawling and contorting of the previous day inside the glass triangle meant that on Friday, every movement was agony. My final step of the install was to place hundreds of embossed paper fossils to completely cover the floor. Unfortunately, having done that I stepped outside to admire the finished exhibition and immediately saw that the lighting needed to be adjusted. Once again I had to retrace my steps, moving all the embossed fossils off the floor, sorting out the lights and then carefully arranging the fossils again.

Then, finally, really, I was finished. By the time I'd spent time looking at the Vitrine from every angle, deciding I was quite pleased and taking plenty of photos, it was noon, and time for the Hamilton launch of National Poetry Day, so I took myself along to that, which will I will write about in my next post.

The finished wall and floor

1 comment:

Carol said...

From your last photo this installation looks beautiful, sumptuous in fact. It's great to get the step by step insight into the problems involved with working in the confines of the Vitrine, but what a magical effect you have produced.