In contemporary installation art, the opposite is often the case and it is through scale that the artist immerses us in their world view, at times literally. Both take craftsmanship but in contemporary art it also requires production specialists, without whom the artist could not produce their work.
In a space as vast and imposing as Pirelli HangarBicocca, ensuring that the contemporary artist’s subtle and often intimate vision reaches the viewer is quite a challenge. Hangar’s three strong production team, composed by Matteo De Vittor, installation supervisor, Valentina Fossati, production coordinator, and Cesare Rossi, in charge for installations, have become masters at reconciling the gallery’s 15,000 square meters and that vision. And perhaps no exhibition has showcased their ability as much as the late Juan Munoz’s Double Bind which, incidentally, was voted one of the best exhibitions of 2015 by The Guardian of London.
Double Bind had only been shown once before and that was 14 years ago at the Tate Modern so its 3,000 components had been left in storage and untouched for the entire period in a warehouse on the outskirts of London. Bringing this work back to life involved the work of bridge construction engineers and elevator technicians, as well of hours of patient rust removal and component refurbishments.
From a structural point of view, the most impressive and perhaps challenging part of the work was the construction of an entire floor at a height of 6 meters. This enabled visitors to actually stroll around below the work and look up into recesses in the “ceiling”, described as “shafts” in the work, which contained human figures and objects, like air-conditioning units that you would see in the courtyard of an urban apartment building.
Double Bind took six weeks to build, weekends included, as well as refurbishment it had to be adapted to the Pirelli HangarBicocca’s space.
“It had to be completely reconfigured because the Turbine Hall has a different structure to the one we have here – even if they appear similar in size and sort of appear to be of the same volume, they are actually slightly different in terms of size and also because we have columns in the space where turbine hall is a single volume without any kind of columns,” Matteo said.
There were two phases to the work. The first was architectural, creating the skeleton, with the spaces for the shafts and elevators, and then all the surfaces. This involved companies that usually build infrastructures like bridges. In the second, the structure with all the windows, doors and sculptures. This wasn’t simply a question of replicating the Tate either but required an aesthetic rebalancing because the proportions were different.
HOW DISCARDED PARTS OF PIRELLI’S ENTRANCE BECAME ART
Being able to work with the artists and understanding their needs beyond the practical elements of the work is also important. With the work of Dieter Roth “working with” went to another level in that the artist and his closest collaborators do not separate their art practice from their lives. If you become a part of the life then you are also a part of their lives.
“With Roth there wasn’t any kind of boundary between the two. We didn’t actually know that at the time, so we basically shared all kinds of experiences with the Icelandic crew for 6 weeks. We would dine together, laugh, drink and discuss whatever while installing the works.”
Usually, artists will produce at least one new site-specific work for any show at Pirelli HangarBicocca and in the case of Roth they built an enormous bar which was a revisiting of an earlier work done for the show in Milan. While this was going on, Pirelli’s old entry on Viale Sarca was being demolished. Matteo noticed that there were some interesting pieces strewn among the junk and detritus that were about to be thrown out and bought them to the attention of Roth’s team. The result was that the CCTVs from the entrance, the main desk, the aluminium structure and its monitors became part of Roth’s bar and were thus elevated into art.
“The bar was actually a plank from an Icelandic forest so that was original and the desk from Pirelli became the back wall of the bar where you had all the bottles. It became part of the installation and they took it with them after the show.”
Another work which presented the production team with real challenges was Tomas Saraceno’s “On Space Time Foam”. This consisted of an inflatable transparent bubble that occupied the Cube space – which is enormous – and over which visitors would be able to crawl – a kind of see-through bouncy castle. The project took six months to both design and build.
“We had just 6 months to do everything and very nerve racking because you had actual visitors suspended on a sheet of plastic 5 millimeters thick and 14 meters up in the air – including the CEO of Pirelli climbed on it – so it had to be done in a way that is absolutely and undoubtedly safe for everybody,“ Matteo said.
Engaging, though provoking and playful, the work was very popular and attracted 150,000 visitors or it might be better to say participants.
As well as the playful, Pirelli HangarBicocca has hosted one show of historic importance by an artist who was one of the pioneers of performance at in the middle of the 20th century, which brings a different set of pressures. Joan Jonas’s show at Pirelli HangarBicocca was a de facto retrospective of her entire career and brought together pieces in an open space that were designed to appear in their own spaces or rooms and not side by side without walls separating them. Already a perfectionist, each of the 20 works, all large installations in themselves, had to be just right and in the right position in relation to the other works. The permutations were considerable. In fact, the show was installed and modified many times which meant also moving walls which were 10 meters long and 5 meters high.
“It was always a walking back and forth to find the right balance and it was extremely challenging, at times tiring and frustrating, if you want, but at the end of the whole process you understand that it was meant to be like that. And in the end she was absolutely happy,” he said.
The last challenge faced by the production team was the installation of Carsten Holler’s “Doubt”, an exhibition of past works alongside new or revisited productions. This installation was yet another example of how an artist’s particular approach to his work will influence the work of a team of 20 people. Holler is a Belgian of German heritage, and works with strict precision, to the millimeter. He required this level of precision for the 120 by 30 meter corridor which leads into the exhibition. This degree of precision would not be normally perceived by the eye of a viewer, but the artist believes that on a subliminal level our eyes and brain register even these micro variations. . “It was another kind of challenge, very different from the previous and will be different from the next, but this the beauty of our job and what keeps us always focused on the goal with a very open mindset,” Matteo concluded.