Setting up William Kentridge: Five Themes

Technical Director Steve Dye works for the San Francisco Museum of Art.  Registrar Kent Walton is contracted to the Norton Museum in Florida.  They have both travelled to Melbourne to install ACMI’s latest exhibition, William Kentridge: Five Themes.

Steve: I first learned of this exhibition’s development in early 2008. At that stage I was familiar with William Kentridge’s earlier single-channel animations, but I hadn’t seen his more recent theatre installations. I didn’t truly appreciate the enormity of what we were about to embark on.

For the next year I watched the technical scope of the exhibition grow and grow and by the time it opened in San Francisco in 2009 it contained 25 projectors – one screening-room has nine projections alone! The most complex piece in the exhibition is Black Box/Chambre Noir, which travels with its own dedicated technicians, Jonas Lundquist and Ronald Hallgren from Stockholm.

The workdesk

Swedish technicians, Jonas (left) and Ronald reassemble the artwork.

Kent: I wear two hats on this exhibition. Technically I am the travelling Registrar responsible for handling the works’ movement from venue to venue. I am also the unofficial Project Manager who coordinates the technicians and ensures that the exhibition is delivered in a smooth and timely manner. I am required to have a really clear overview of the whole operation at the same time caring for the individual works, their condition and handling. In this way my vision is constantly focusing and refocusing from the macroscopic to microscopic and back again.

Kentridge exhibition install

Kentridge exhibition install

Steve: The logistics of coordinating such an enormous amount of technical equipment is challenging, particularly when working across different countries – each with their own electrical systems. This exhibition has travelled to established, world-class museums as well as smaller contemporary art spaces where the infrastructure available to us varies. On the odd occasion we have had dramatic equipment failures!

It takes 14-15 days to set up the show and to train on-site staff in its operation and maintenance. Black Box/Chambre Noir requires extra special attention. The best analogy I can give is that it’s like an old car, and you need to know where the hum and rattle is. You need to know what quirks are normal and what needs to be addressed quickly, before it becomes a problem.

Steve (left) on the ground at the Kentridge install.

Kent: The exhibition packs down into 42 crates, which altogether contain 6,595 individually itemised components. At every tour venue you never really know what you’re walking into – how the venue operates, how much support there is, or what personalities you might encounter – it’s different every time. I was initially worried that I was going to be bored installing and de-installing this exhibition over and over again, but it’s the unpredictability that’s most fascinating and enjoyable. I just try to remain congenial and adapt to the existing structures of each venue.

Kent (left) supervises the unpacking of one of the exhibition’s 42 crates.

Steve: Working with William [Kentridge] is a joy. Like William, I have a background in theatre, and he is very open to collaboration. Every artist I encounter has their own way of working with technology; of accenting different qualities and pushing it in different ways. William likes to project his images onto grey walls, not white, which makes the blacks in his animations beautifully rich.  He also likes to have the soundtracks to his films completely fill the gallery. Of course, sound spill is always an issue and so every installation is a puzzle. How do you work with the materials at hand to make it the best experience for the work and the audience?

Kent: My favourite work in the exhibition is probably Preparing the Flute, which has a beautiful simplicity. It has also been wonderful to see works loaned by Australian collectors for this iteration of the show. The bronze horse sculptures in the final section of the exhibition are new to me.

Bronze horse sculptures are a generous addition to the exhibition from private Australian collectors.

Steve: I can’t go past the anamorphic film installation What will come (has already come), which is just like magic to me.

Kent: I’ve had such a wonderful experience working on this exhibition, there’s a great sense of camaraderie between Steve, Jonas, Ronald and myself. We travel from different parts of the world to make it happen, and we are always so glad to see each other. I’ve lived and breathed this exhibition for three years now, but very soon the artwork will be out of my life and beyond my control. Letting go is hard to do.

Steve: Naturally we wanted to end this tour on a positive note. The installation has so far been really smooth and the ACMI team are very relaxed and easy to work with.  Hopefully the exhibition is as popular here as it has been everywhere else.  It’s a wonderful thing to experience.

– Ulanda Blair, Assistant Curator, ACMI Exhibitions

William Kentridge: Five Themes opens at ACMI on Thursday 8 March, 2012.

The team work to prepare the gallery for opening.

Tags: , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply