Making Volume: The display
Learn how our display team turned 600 linear metres of timber, 120 sheets of MDF, 60 stainless steel components, 31 screens, hours of 3D printing, and much more into one stunning exhibition.
A giant tetris game
The build for me starts well before we actually get into the physical space. So my job is nutting out how to get the design up into reality. It's a giant tetris game.
Simon Gamble, Production Manager
For Simon, the tetris game begins by talking to the exhibition team and 3D designers. The aim is to ensure the overall concept will be doable within the space, and get in early with requirements that can help save time and resources later on - like having wall lengths divisible by 1.2 metres, the size MDF comes in. With his knowledge of the space and his team's capabilities, Simon will also suggest interactives and elements which can be made in-house.
Once the design has been confirmed, Simon turns to the practicalities of the actual build: the order everything has to happen in, how to store things along the way, and what's going to happen afterwards. The result is a tight schedule.
'You generally get six to seven weeks between shows - that includes two weeks to decant the previous show, and five weeks to build the new one,' says Simon.
The team had to start by taking down the previous exhibition, Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, and turning the special exhibition hall into an empty space (about 900 m2). The next step is to layout the floor plans, build the walls, and put up the lighting rigging. After a clean up, everything is painted. In theory, graphics come in next, then mounts go in, followed by objects, and lights are hung - though it's never an entirely linear process.
Tasks are shared among the core display team, a team that expands as opening night draws closer. Each team member has to come up with practical and creative solutions to the challenges that emerge along the way.
In an exhibition about music, one of the biggest challenges was sound. AV Manager Liam Brown describes it as a 'large scale audio jigsaw puzzle for the AV team.' He worked with Sound Designer Bevan Smith, audio engineers, and the exhibition team to create well-defined audio zones which helped set the scene for each era in Volume.
Balancing the audio across different genres, different floor and wall coverings, and different speaker requirements proved a massive challenge. We decided to use a gallery-wide control system - this gave us the ability to refine the audio levels across all zones in the gallery space prior to opening, providing the audio experience we have today.
Liam Brown, AV Manager
Acoustic panels are used throughout the space - most black walls are actually acoustic panelling. The theatre space uses carpet and extra panelling to minimise sound spill from the outside - if you walk into it while talking to someone, you'll get to a point where you hear your voice change.
Display technicians Chris Mules and Charlie Charlick put up the all soundproofing material, Autex.
Using a pin gun we attached the large sheets of Autex soundproofing that had images printed on them. The surface of it is 3mms thick and it gets heat set onto the 10mm felt backing. The printing was also a heat set process and, as a result, the printed face of the Autex lifted off. No one here had ordered photographic prints on Autex before so had no idea this would happen. Using a contact adhesive we needed to reattach the surfaces back on to 18 panels, each 2.4 metres high and 1.2 metres wide. A long and intense job, but part of getting a show over the line.
Chris Mules, Display Technician
By the numbers
It wasn't just the broadcast sound the AV team had to worry about, but a huge number of screens and interactives - developed both externally and in-house. This required:
22 pairs of headphones
...to display a total of 250 minutes of audio and/or video
Making the invisible
While sound and video is everywhere in Volume, there's one display element that you hopefully haven't noticed - the 56 mounts holding various objects in place throughout the exhibition. Working with the exhibition developers and conservators, the display team go through every single object to determine how it gets displayed and how it should be held.
The art of mount making is to make the mount disappear - so all people pay attention to is the object.
Simon Gamble, Production Manager
It takes one person approximately one day to make a mount, but with the majority of objects arriving from external lenders, the team had only a short time to design and construct the mounts. Stainless steel was identified as the perfect material.
'Stainless steel can instantly be altered and mended and put back into the case without conversation concerns,' explains Rick Cave, lead technician on Volume and welding specialist. 'It's highly inert, which means it won't react with the objects, unlike normal steel which will need some sort of coating, and a three week de-gassing period.'
Rick and Simon made nearly 70 stainless steel components to hold the objects safely in place. While this was a lot of work, and objects like Tiki Taane's pūtātara required complex free-form shapes, Rick found the challenge was in the 'very distracting' nature of the subject matter.
Every second thing I picked up in this 200 object exhibition was pretty cool and makes you want to stop and look at it and appreciate it - Dave Dobbyn's setlist and things like that - that are actually a bit of cultural heritage for New Zealand. My favourite object is the Supergroove tracksuit... I want to wear it!
Rick Cave, Display Technician
3D printed tricks
Of course, not all objects were suited to stainless steel. Posters and records required framing, and clothes required mannequins. Sharon O'Neill's 'Maxine' outfit was so small it required a purpose-built mannequin. The team even had to make an object - the replica silver scroll award featured at the end of the show.
I had to go into the [APRA] office and I had an hour in a room with a real silver scroll. So I walked around taking photos then scale-drew it so we could see how each facet looked.
Chris Cantley, Display Technician
Heath King then used Chris' drawings to create a 3D model of the scroll in CAD software, which was then 3D printed. The team considered painting it up - but decided to leave it as a facsimile.
3D printing was used in another part of the show too - the interactive where you can turn a giant dial to hear the same song on different music players. Heath had the job of putting this together. 'It needed to have that sense of chunck chunck chunck, like a big selector switch, and it also had to be really strong.'
The base of the switch was 3D cut out of MDF. Heath designed the central handle to be 3D printed in three sections, which he then pinned together. 'Quite often you end up printing a prototype or you print one and there's something you need to change. Each part took 7-8 hours to print - so if you run out of filament its quite annoying, or if you realise you made one stupid error on your 3D modelling...'
Once everything's in place, it's not a simple matter of turning the lights on. Lighting Manager Wayne Ferguson begins his work early on in the exhibition development process, thinking about the end result then working backwards from there.
Being in a Museum, one of the main restraints we have is the sensitivity of collection objects to light. So more often than not - there's a lighting requirement from collection care around how much lighting exposure you can put on a collection object.
Wayne Ferguson, Lighting Manager
The final quality of light is measured by colour rendering. 'We like to have 95% colour rendering - that's how accurately the light will render colour. You want to present the object in the best possible light so the viewer can see the colours and the details.'
A special entrance
Wayne also worked with Liam in the AV team to make the pulsing entrance light at the start of Volume. 'It measures 1.6m in diameter, and is made up of multiple opal acrylic layers to give it a sense of depth. Then there are shallow cavities where I've placed LED strip, which was RGB (red green blue) - that's what enables you to do the colour mixing, which was an important component in the development of that sign, so the sign itself could mimic the exhibition colours.'
Liam programmed eight DMX controllers to control the fading and switching of colour. The sign used 18m of LED ribbon, weighed approximately 60kg, and took three people to hang it on the wall - which had to be reinforced to take the weight.
Ready for opening night
'One of the best things about my team is that they understand that the show must go on - we're doing weeks of very long days, which is not ideal. The final days are quite hectic, the last push to get everything done. It's also the point in time where there are last minute tweaks that people want to make - as it's inevitably not until they can actually see the whole thing that they notice that. But at some point, I just say no,' says Simon.
So what does it feel like when the exhibition finally opens after weeks of hard work?
It's always really disappointing actually when the show opens, because if I've done a good job there's nothing left for me to do. And I quite enjoy my job. But it's nice to see my family too.
Simon Gamble, Production Manager
See Volume before it closes
The display team are about to undo all their hard work, as Volume is due to close on Sunday 21 May. So if you haven't seen it yet, be sure to check it out!
Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa
You can also get more behind-the-scenes stories in our other 'Making of' Volume blogs - designing the exhibition identity, and finding and looking after the objects.
Post by: Auckland Museum
Auckland War Memorial Museum tells the story of New Zealand, its people, and their place in the Pacific.