For the most part, what you see in galleries and museums is generally only what they want you to see. The artist work in it’s imperfect and selected state, obliging your thoughts into a specific way in order to direct your thinking one way or another. I wonder what people would think of an artists work if they were able to view the entire works scrambled on the floor in pieces and unfinished. Well thats one of the things I got to be a part of last weekend. My class was invited by The Baltic in Gateshead into their ‘turn-over’ period to view the behind the scenes tour of the installation being set up. This exclusive tour was led by Chris Osborne, the Technical Manager of exhibitions at The Baltic.
It began with an introduction from Mr. Osborne, which was actually quite fascinating. Listening to him sum up his entire career in about 10 minutes was quite impressive which went from part time framer to professional installationist (is that even a word?) within a few years.
We toured the late Jason Rhoades upcoming exhibition, a critically acclaimed installation artist who created colourful pallets with biological and often sexually chaotic work. Rhoades seemingly had a knack for creating atmospheres, but when I saw his work in pieces on the temperature controlled floor with tubes of pornographic images pasted on them it was more a feeling of disgust than artistic awe. Yes, the artwork being displayed seemed very intriguing but the really interesting part I found was the tour itself, and getting to quiz Chris on the technicalities and logistics of creating that kind of atmosphere from working with their in-house wood workshop to using outside tech specialists.
He spoke about how difficult it was to recreate work. As I learned the majority of The Baltic’s exhibitions are part of a tour and often aren’t the first gallery to hold the work so usually exhibitions like Jason Rrhoades’ arrive in bits and pieces in crates, sometimes with no building instructions. This leaves it up to the tech team to uphold the integrity of the artist. I find this fascinating and quite a romantic approach to installation. They are honouring the work of a deceased artist by making it technically accurate in his memory. I know that if I were to leave my work with a gallery I would hope they have a similar approach.
Upon experiencing the rest of the tour one of the questions I asked there was how much input the artist has in regards to filling up the space or was it the tech team that made those decisions? How involved is the artist? I wanted to know because of our upcoming photography exhibition in May/June and to see if as an artist, I can make professional and technical judgements yet remain creative with my approach.
Chris and the entire team agreed that it was dependant on the artist themselves and how much of a vision they have. Sometimes the artist will have ideas about the installation and it’s up to the tech team to work with them to see exactly what is realistic. Other times The Baltic is just sent the crates with no instruction and it’s up to them to work out the best possible way for their art to be shown.
I’m definitely a hands-on kind of photographer. I like to be involved in every step of my work being shown even if that means creating and building sets, and in fact it’s something I enjoy. It’s a great part of the process and I’m learning so much about logistics by doing so. Chris’s tour was very enlightening and I hope to apply some of the things he mentioned like working with the space and atmosphere and applying that to my own work and exhibit.
Thanks for reading!