Raising & Lowering Systems | Weiwei Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts
The Royal Academy of Arts, situated in the heart of London, is a place which most would class as an institution where art is made, exhibited and debated.
The diversity of the Academies exhibitions programme sets it apart. From ancient sculptures to modern-day masterpieces and large-scale installations. When major artist and cultural phenomenon Ai Weiwei was set to take over the main galleries with brave, provocative and visionary works, it was longstanding RAA partner Raising and Lowering Systems that were contacted to handle the installation of the centrepiece art installation in the main dome within the gallery.
Ai became widely known in Britain after his sunflower seeds installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2010 but this exhibition is the first major institutional survey of his work ever held in the UK and it bridges over two decades of his extraordinary career. Curated in collaboration with Ai Weiwei from his studio in Beijing, the RAA present some of his most important works from the time he returned to China from the US in 1993 right up to present day. Among new works created specifically for the RAA galleries and courtyard are a number of large-scale installations, as well as works showcasing everything from marble and steel to tea and glass.
Raising and Lowering (R & L) Systems specialist lighting hoists are typically installed as permanent fixtures and are usually situated in the roof voids of buildings. The electrically powered or manual lighting winch systems are operated at ground level, allowing the luminaire (typically a chandelier) to be mechanically raised and lowered making it accessible for cleaning and maintenance. In the case of the Weiwei exhibition, the same principal was applied, but no winches were permanently installed. The job of the R & L team was simply to use whatever systems were required to safely and efficiently install the centrepiece “Bicycle Chandelier” (pictured above) in the gallery in time for the opening of the exhibition on September 19th, 2015.
The project was particularly complex as the team were working with large, heavy and sometimes irregular shaped pieces and had to work within the constraints of the large historic building. The photograph below shows the huge metal frame that the chandelier was suspended on.
The “Bicycle Chandelier”, which represents bicycles as humdrum symbols of Chinese daily life, is suspended in silver clusters to make a soaring luminaire in the main central dome of the RAA. Suspended from the ceiling by a series of support ropes attached to the metal frame, the chandeliers frame support ropes had to line up perfectly so that they passed through extremely small gaps in the ornate ceiling vent with a gap of only 10mm either side. The project was painstaking as every movement had to be exact, with no margin for error.
Following the installation of the work, a weight test had to be carried out in accordance with Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).The R & L team used a chain hoist to carry out this test and certification was supplied to the RAA on completion of this work, giving them the relevant documentation and peace of mind that the installation had been carried out correctly and the chandelier was safely suspended.
The project was a success and the exhibition opened as planned on September 19th, 2015. The exhibition has since drawn attention worldwide and has had rave reviews. The Telegraph calling the exhibition 'immensely impressive' and The Times recently commenting “The work that you will see at the RA transcends the world of the gallery… This is an exhibition that reveals art’s greatest potential.” Raising & Lowering Systems have 17 complex electric multi-rope winch systems currently installed in the RAA galleries. The winch systems suspend the lighting frames used to illuminate the art on display. In addition to the installation of new systems, the team carry out statutory annual Thorough Examinations once every 12 months on all systems and have even moved an entire winch system from one gallery to another. A photograph of the winch system that was moved is shown above.
R& L Systems have been working with the RAA for over 35 years and this was without doubt one of the most interesting and challenging projects that the team have taken on to date. They were honoured to be part of such an extraordinary exhibition at a venue as prestigious as the RAA and look forward to their involvement in forthcoming projects.