As an art handler who has worked with all sorts of art at Tate over the last 43 years (and 30 years at Tate Liverpool), sculpture has always been my first love. And complex sculptures and installations appeal to me the most.
Phillip King’s Within intrigued me as a complex construction, although I was a little apprehensive about installing it. It was 1988 – I remember it well. I was concerned about the size and weight of the piece. Would it fit in? Arriving on numerous pallets, it took up a whole delivery lorry. Heavy iron framework, large pieces of thick slate and huge pieces of elm.
We had to determine the right position for it in the gallery. Weight, space and height were all factors – particularly height, as the central element was almost as tall as the gallery and had to be held in position by a forklift.
The next day we meant business: boiler suits, safety shoes, gloves. Straps, trucks, pallets. The gallery resembled a factory floor. We struggled for hours trying to position the central element in the correct position. We sweated over getting it placed, and, by the end of the day, thought we had. A nervous night followed. Was it going to work?
Now to fit the other parts around it. We laboured day after day, coming to realise that the wooden elements had changed shape, were not fitting easily. Was the central piece in the wrong position? We built, and rebuilt, several times until it began to work. Then, joy! We completed it.
The experience of building King’s sculpture, the balance and construction, made me feel that the piece was encompassing the space, making it real and solid. It is an experience that will stay with me always.
Within was purchased by Tate in 1979.
Ken Simons is Art Handling Manager, Tate Liverpool. As part of Tate Liverpool's 30th anniversary celebrations, he has selected some of his favourite Tate artworks in Ken's Show: Exploring the Unseen, Tate Liverpool, 30 March – 17 June 2018.