This week, we caught up with Fergus O’Connor, Senior Time-based Media Technician. Time-based Media covers the installation and care of works of art which depend on technology and have duration as a dimension, such as artworks that use video, film, audio, 35 mm slide and computer-based technologies as well as performances and ‘intangible’ works. They have a fascinating and growing role at Tate, dealing simultaneously with the most cutting-edge technologies and those that are becoming rapidly obsolete (when was the last time you had to work with an audio cassette or a VHS tape?).
Fergus has been working on installing some of the most complex works in A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance, and has given us a little peek into some of the challenges they faced and how they overcame them.
In terms of complexity, three of the more recent works in the latter part of the exhibition proved particularly challenging to install - either in finding creative solutions to do something totally new for Tate or making complicated systems feel clean and simple.
To achieve a sense of atmosphere in Room 9, Swan Lake by Karen Kilimik requires a haze machine, which accompanies the objects, lighting and soundtrack. This is the first time Tate has installed a hazer directly into one of the main gallery spaces and so all sorts of logistical challenges needed to be overcome during the process.
Due to the risk of inadvertently triggering the smoke detection system, we needed to adjust the fire alarm sensors and consider the ventilation. There are of course a wide range of smoke and haze devices on the market but from a conservation perspective we needed a fog solution which was primarily water-based. The dispersal time was also crucial so we could ensure the haze would not travel a sufficient distance to compromise any of the surrounding works. In the end, we chose a device with a suitably adjustable fan and pump system that was capable of running at low level continually all day. Due to the layout of objects access to the hazer is really quite limited, so to simplify the switch on/off procedure we also installed a wired analogue DMX remote control.
Beyond room 10, we see one of Jutta Koether’s paintings suspended on a large sheet of freestanding glass. Jutta was also keen to show some of her supporting material via digital scans of books she had made, and so we had to find a way to do that. By installing an area of opaque vinyl to the back of the glass, and using a projector with long zoom lens, we were able to show a rolling slideshow directly behind the painting.
Ei Arakawa also presented us with some additional challenges in Room 11 with a series of 6 video works. A system was developed where each of the plasma screens has a digital media player mounted directly behind it, along with headphones and mini amplifiers for 3 of the films. Ensuring that all the audio, video and power cabling was run safely, whilst maintaining a minimal look and feel created a quite an interesting conundrum, but the overall result is quite satisfying in its simplicity.