Another aspect is the physical placement of the sculpture. Artworks range from the finicky to the very heavy, where Birch must make major safety and access considerations. “Some artists come onto the site and only need a few minutes to set up. Others become incredibly complicated. We use everything from small Hiabs to the capacity of one ton to a 55-ton crane and forklifts.”
In 2010, a Sir Anthony Caro work arrived in a 40-foot open top container, late for Cottesloe. “We needed a 30-ton crane. It showed up the day after we opened so everybody is all excited down there and we’re trying to move heavy bits of steel assembling an artwork we haven’t put together before,” Birch recalls. “You have to be really conscious about maintaining that perimeter because there are kids running around on the beach. It can be particularly challenging on the ground.”
Moving in, moving out
Bump in begins about a week before the exhibition opens. Temporary buildings go up and Birch ensures the infrastructure is ready. If the exhibition opens on Thursday, the organisers start placing works from Monday that week, or up to five days before “if there are difficult works or critical path works that need to go in earlier,” says Birch.
Because of the physical constraints of the site, sculptures need to be placed in a particular order. This also ensures the most efficient use of equipment and contractors’ time, Birch explains. “The sequential nature of it ensures we don’t have to roll out security any earlier than we need to. We work in zones and we minimise our spread. It also helps concentrate our manpower and resources.”
Sculptures come direct from artists’ workshops or via freight containers for non-local pieces and, like the Caro work, don’t always arrive when they’re meant to. “Especially the international artworks,” notes Birch. Things get held up at customs, or a ship is late getting to port. Once, an artwork from India was flagged as a potential artefact. “Communicating with India is difficult at the best of times but these artists live out in villages. That got held up for five days as we frantically got the documentation to say ‘it’s a brand new artwork, the guy just made it’.”
Birch says he just has to work around it, even if it means pulling out the temporary fencing and the safety tape to place a work. “My job is, once it has been selected, to get it from selection to exhibition.”
Bump out usually takes three or four days. Sometimes, as with 2011’s Bondi exhibition, which took five days to bump out, the weather may hamper efforts. “Rain will just kill you if you’re working outside. Momentum drops, it’s hard to keep motivated. Safety, churning the ground up, all sorts of issues come into play,” says Birch.
When a work is sold, he may also advise the buyer on what to expect. “The client might have a completely inappropriate site so we can say ‘it’ll be far better here, logistically and artistically’—that’s part of it. Then it gets turned over to the subcontractor and it leaves site.”
Stake in the art
Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi attracts about 500,000 visitors over its 18-day viewing period. Waverley Council, which owns the jurisdiction, recognises the boost to tourism the event provides and offers a lot of in kind support, including help with siting and park remediation after bump out.
The neighbours can be a little harder to manage, however. During bump in, the organisers won’t close the park, instead choosing to use temporary fixtures to install the artworks safely, but they’ll still attract curious onlookers. “The public is hit and miss. If they’re a resident and their parking has been buggered up for three weeks, they might not be happy. But in general, we get half a million visitors so something is going right,” Birch remarks.
Fortunately this is a good measure of success for him. “Have I maintained all the relationships I had at the beginning, the stakeholders that I deal with? You have the public, council, sponsors, artists. You can’t consider the artists as a stakeholder group, they are each a stakeholder because they are tied to an individual part of it. If I can walk away and all those relationships remain intact, the sales have been good because the works have been sited well and everything has come together, that’s my benchmark. It’s one of those projects that you manage to a point where it doesn’t exist.”
Unsurprisingly, the artistic side of Sculpture by the Sea appeals to Birch the most. He nominates studio visits as his favourite part of putting together the exhibition. “I like going to meet the artist at their studio and talk about their work and the development of the work and how they think it’s going to function. Seeing an image and then talking to the artist can completely change how you perceive the work, which will have an impact on how you site the work and how you deal with it.
“When you reach those breakthroughs and you get that back story it is really rewarding,” he adds. “Then you see it on site and you know that it has come to site the way it is because you’ve talked about it. And it gets me out of the office.”
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Image above: ‘seas nest’ by Zhang Yangen (Sculpture by the Sea Bondi 2012). Photo by Howard Jones, courtesy Sculpture by the Sea.