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Supporting the Vladimir Tatlin glider | Penny Hydraulics and the new ground-breaking project at the Royal Academy of Arts

Supporting the Vladimir Tatlin glider | Penny Hydraulics and the new ground-breaking project at the Royal Academy of Arts


Recently opened, Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932 is the latest exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (RAA). Running until April 2017 and one hundred years on from the Russian Revolution, the powerful exhibition explores one of the most momentous periods in modern world history through the lens of its ground-breaking art, surveying the entire artistic landscape of post-Revolutionary Russia.

In the gallery’s rotunda, hangs a recreation of one of Vladimir Tatlin’s constructivist gliders, a prototype flying machine he worked on for several years. It circles the white space resembling a large and imposing dragonfly. Tatlin saw the piece as a flying bicycle for workers, made from steamed, bent ash and fabric. It looks as light as air. It never flew or went anywhere, but now turns in a room, endlessly and this was the task set for Raising and Lowering Systems, a division of award-winning lifting equipment manufacturer, Penny Hydraulics Ltd by the exhibition organisers.

Penny Hydraulics install raising and lowering equipment for lighting installations such as chandeliers and high mast lighting, allowing maintenance of otherwise inaccessible light fittings and installations from ground level. Manual, electric, remote controlled, interior and exterior winching systems are available and a complete design package means that the Penny engineers work with architects and structural engineers through the commissioning, manufacture, installation and maintenance stages of a project.

In business since 1978, Penny’s lighting winch division are the leading authority in this field and install and maintain lifting and lowering systems for chandeliers and other lighting installations in museums, hotels, courts, theatres, stadiums, breweries, railways, retail premises, stately and private homes. Prestigious locations include Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, Royal Courts of Justice and The Victoria & Albert Museum.

No stranger to the RAA, Penny Hydraulics have multiple specialist winch systems in place in the buildings many galleries to hang art and to suspend lighting. From time to time, the Academy have a special request. In 2015, the team were contracted to safely and efficiently install a centrepiece “Bicycle Chandelier” in the gallery for the critically acclaimed Ai Weiwei exhibition.The “Bicycle Chandelier” was suspended in silver clusters to make a soaring luminaire in the main central dome of the building. 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.

In the case of the constructivist glider, the Raising & Lowering team were requested to design, supply and install a solution for rigging and rotating the Tatlin Glider sculpture in the Central Hall, in same place as the Ai Weiwei exhibition sculpture previously hung. The project was particularly challenging due to the huge 9m wingspan of the glider.

A bespoke, hanging, rotary actuator system, to rotate the Glider at 1 revolution per minute was designed in 3D CAD software by Penny’s engineers for Academy approval. The system was then manufactured and included large suspension plates to allow rigging wires to be fine-tuned, to perfect the Glider’s ‘swooping’ position as it rotated. Take a look at the video to see the Glider is action by clicking here.

Following a day of trial rigging in an art handlers warehouse prior to the final installation at RAA, the installation was then carried out at high level using a mobile elevating work platform to access the ceiling within the main central dome in time for the exhibition opening on February 11, 2017.

“The sheer size of the glider and the fact that it needed to perpetually spin at a set speed made this a particularly challenging project” says Ed Penny, General Manager of Penny Hydraulics lighting winch division, “having worked with the Academy on so many projects over the years, we were delighted to be awarded this contract. The glider, now in situ, looks absolutely fantastic and is a main focal point of the exhibition. Our specialist work at the RAA is a great chance to show-off our engineering expertise and we look forward to working with the Academy on further high profile art installations moving forwards.”

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