Unusual Rigging's first foray into The Royal Academy with Antony Gormley

3rd December 2019

 Antony Gormley Studio enlisted the expertise of Unusual Rigging for the sculptor's recent exhibition at the Royal Academy. Gormley's retrospective which ran until December 3rd has wowed art lovers and novices alike, having been designed to put 'the visitor centre stage'. It was spread across thirteen rooms, all calling for physical and imaginative participation from those who visited the Academy to see his work.

Robin Elias, technical director, Unusual Rigging commented: "This was Unusual's first foray into the Royal Academy. Antony Gormley Studio contacted us based on previous successful collaborations and, of course, we were delighted to be able to bring our know-how –both to the artworks themselves and the beautiful Royal Academy building."

The centre piece of the exhibition was 'Body and Fruit' in the Central Hall. "The piece centres around two huge rusty steel apples – one weighing five tonnes and the other two tonnes," explained Robin. "Our task was to suspend the fruit to hover just above the floor. We started with a visit to see the pieces in a warehouse in the North of England. To hang the items, we specified 32 diameter and 22 diameter steel wire ropes – they had to terminate inside the artworks which were then sealed. The challenge was to ensure the rope was exactly the right length as once they were added and the pieces sealed, there would be no going back."

Unusual worked with a specialist company to fabricate the rope with a threaded end to ensure it could be inserted into the artwork with ease. The greatest difficulty, however came from the fact that, while it was vital to ensure the rope was the exact length, the attachment points in the Central Hall at the Royal Academy had not yet been installed.

Robin continued: "The attachment points were to be installed above the glass dome so we had to work very closely with the installers to determine the exact length in order for the steel wire rope to disappear seamlessly through the glass, allowing the rigging to be done in the loft space.

In Gallery Six 'Lost Horizon', Unusual installed six cross-hall I-beams at height attached to the ornate arched roof. Other contractors then sub-hung a suspended ceiling.

The artwork consisted of figures, each weighing 750 kgs, standing on the floor, standing on the walls, and standing, upside down under the ceiling, seamlessly attached to our steelwork.

In the Academy's large Western Room, Robin and the team were tasked with putting in a truss grid at height, helping to design and install the fixings to enable this to be suspended. A false Perspex ceiling was hung first and lit from above. The artwork in this room, resembling a scribble made out of aluminium hoops, encouraged visitors to come through the door and climb through the maze of metal. "This piece had a unique challenge – how could we anticipate the load imposed on the grids by the people climbing through it and hanging on it? Further complications came to the fore when, in the roof space, we found some old wooden Victorian beams, so we devised an alternative, last minute solution which has worked well," he said.

Unusual's Sam Carter was responsible for devising a solution for what is possibly the most complex of Gormley's pieces - Matrix. A huge 3D sculpture made of 6MM Rebar, Matrix is colossal in size, requiring hundreds of thousands of welds on site to build it. The end result is a piece which looks like a drawing – assembled with absolute precision to the millimetre. Sam explained: "The brief for this was to install beautiful secondary steelwork to the roof of the building to allow us to hang Matrix. The steelwork needed to disappear and look like part of the building. But with an eight tonne mass of metal with no strong points to pick it up, we had to take our time – build the top layer, raise it up – then another layer, raise it up and so on until the finished piece allows visitors to walk around beneath it."

Idoya Beitia, head of exhibitions management at the Royal Academy commented: "This is the first time the Royal Academy has worked with Unusual Rigging but we look forward to continuing collaborating with the team on future projects. The scale of the work and the time constraints for the installation was a huge challenge but Unusual Rigging was professional and flexible in its approach which was fundamental – especially with regard to the successful installation of Matrix. The Royal Academy is a listed building with access restrictions – that in itself was challenging but Unusual was able to offer reversible solutions that respected the requirements when working with a listed building."

Idoya concluded: "The professional and calm demeanour of Unusual's managers and technicians, their problem solving attitude...nothing was too big or too difficult for Robin, Sam and the team. The Royal Academy felt that everybody at Unusual Rigging went above and beyond the call of duty and working with them was an absolute pleasure."

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