Everyone loves invention in this industry, and Manchester based lighting and rigging specialist dbn had great opportunity to show some real rigging finesse at Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery – just re-opened in a blaze of glory after a £15 million revamp that includes a brand new wing and some completely unique new gallery spaces reimagined from previously enclosed areas of the building.
dbn has worked on various projects at the Whitworth over the years. dbn’s Nick Todd joined the Gallery’s own installations team to mastermind the rigging of four specific elements of the current permanent exhibition by sculptor and installation artist Cornelia Parker into the fabulous newly refurbished Gallery 6, 7 and 8 spaces.
The works include her acclaimed “Cold Dark Matter : An Exploded View” – suspended fragments of a garden shed that was exploded by the British Army, installed with a lightsource in the centre projecting dramatic shadows all around the gallery.
Also the new intricate, precise and slightly unnerving “War Room”.
Occupying the whole of Gallery 6 one of the newly ‘found’ spaces, this was the most complex of Cornelia Parker’s four enigmatic creations to rig.
The 20 metre long piece resembles an apex roofed marquee in shape with the walls and ceiling constructed out of long drops of blood red paper made from recycled waste from the factory that manufactures the 45 million Remembrance Day poppies sold each year. It is lit by four stark hanging light bulbs.
dbn’s brief was to devise a system whereby the gallery staff could work on constructing this piece at ground level, which could then be raised up.
The lines of fabric had to sit with 12 mm spacings between the outside edges and the next layer in, and all be perfectly lined up so they are seamless with only one layer of fabric visible to viewers.
The simple but elegant solution was to dead hang a Slick litebeam trussing grid in the roof utilizing the new house rigging points, allowing a ‘ridge’ truss to be suspended on motors below. The gallery technicians could then attach all the drops of material at working height – while safely standing on the ground.
When this task was completed, the ridge truss was flown out to the desired height, deaded off, and the motors removed. The gallery crew then diligently lifted the material and secured each of the material drops on the side positions forming the swagged apex shape running along the centreline of the work.
Cold Dark Matter
This iconic work created by Parker in 1991 and comes complete with its own grid to which the thousands of fishing line wires are attached to suspend the shed fragments in the requisite positions.
The challenge here was for this grid to be suspended subtly in the barrel ceiling of gallery 8 imperceptible to those enjoying this powerfully emotive work where the forces of chaos and control work simultaneously
It weighs half a ton, so dbn designed a mini-grid from Litebeam truss and a discreet steel wire suspension system. Once again, the grid was moved into position on motors allowing connection at ground level, and once in place, deaded off and the motors removed.
“Our equipment was always going to be visible on this one but its simple, functional design was appreciated” comments Nick, who loves working in the Whitworth and feels a real affinity with the environment and the whole vibe that exists there … making some incredible and through-provoking art highly accessible.
Having A Crush
The other two works testing dbn’s rigging skills are both suspended in Gallery 7 and required a similar approach.
“Composition With Horns (double flat)’” is created from 16 old brass band instruments, squashed flat in an industrial press and hung from wires close to the floor, while “Accidental I” features 52 silver objects crushed in a heavy steam press, also suspended on separate metal wires in a similar fashion.
The artifacts are suspended from two white panels containing a set of screw eyes to hold the wires, and these needed to be hung tight to the 7 meter curved ceiling so the wires could run neatly down to the floor.
The difficulty was that the installation panels were made from steel, were quite heavy and inconveniently positioned for the house rigging points.
The solution this time was another Litebeam grid – connected directly to and spanning the two panels - effectively making them a single element. Wind-up stands with temporary lifting arms were used to achieve maximum height where the panels ‘disappear’ into the ceiling.
For the high profile re-opening show, dbn provided exterior illumination for the Gallery’s new extension utilizing SGM P5 LED floods and Studio Due CityColor LED floods. The Halle Youth Choir’s performance was lit with Spectral Zoom LED Pars and Clay Paky GlowUp battery powered LED units.
Inside, the South Gallery was transformed into a clubland setting for Dave Haslam’s rocking DJ set, and the newly restored Grand Hall became a live venue presenting a variety of contemporary music acts.
With the lack of power, strict no-haze policy and incredibly short turn around windows for the indoor spaces (both of which were public galleries until an hour before the opening event), lightweight, low powered fixtures with a punchy output were required.
CP A.leda K10 B-Eye wash LED fixtures were used in both areas for their massive versatility and ‘eye candy’ effects plus CP Sharpy washes for stage washes, where the UV color filter was ideal for the full room’s immersive projection set. More SGM P-5s, CP Glow ups and Spectral PARs were used to highlight the new architectural beauty of the Gallery, while Clay Paky Alpha Spot HPEs provided breakup effects across some of the walls.
Nick really enjoyed working on this project, “I was immensely proud to be a small part of this event, especially having watched the building transform over the months into something really special. It’s been a great challenge for everyone involved trying to organize and plan while it was still a building site, but 18,000 people through the doors over the opening weekend is testament to the exceptional nature and value of this Manchester treasure!”
Photos by Nick Todd