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Heavy lifting: How we installed Ai Weiwei’s Straight

August 16th, 2013

Ai Weiwei: According to what?

Each exhibition at the AGO presents special challenges for our installation team. Hanging valuable paintings can be complicated, but some pieces demand a whole other level of planning, on-the-spot problem-solving and good old elbow grease.

Some of the works in the upcoming exhibition Ai Weiwei: According to What? were particularly complex to place: one of them, Straight, is a work that consists of no less than 38 tons of rebar (the steel bars that are used during construction to reinforce concrete).

The installation process, led by AGO Senior Project Manager Iain Hoadley, started with the arrival of four flatbed trucks, hauling a total of 40 crates, each weighing 2,500 pounds. The crates were off-loaded in our parking lot with a forklift and then brought into the building through the shipping dock and up a freight elevator to the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion, the exhibition space for According to What? and almost all of our major shows.

Two crews of 10 installed one piece of rebar at a time, working a total of 70 hours over six days to finish the final piece, which measures 40 by 20 feet, varying in height from two to 15 inches off the floor. All staff in the area wore earplugs and heavy duty gloves for this complicated installation.

Given the enormous weight of the work, Hoadley enlisted an engineering consultant for advice on the placement of the work within the gallery space, as well as the thickness of the rebar layers and the placement of the crates during the unpacking process. Straight has been installed in numerous galleries, and each time its presentation is different. Based on our space and the conditions set by our engineering consultant, Ai’s studio provided a layout specific to the AGO. And, since the Gallery has never before hosted a work this heavy, a surveyor monitored the reaction of the pavilion’s floor on a daily basis to ensure safe display conditions were maintained as installers layered the rebar.

installation of "Ai Weiwei: According to what?"

More about Straight

Ai created Straight from rebar he recovered from collapsed schoolhouses following the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The artist had every piece of mangled rebar straightened through a laborious process that served as a memorial to each earthquake victim.

This massive work is Ai’s response to the government’s refusal to acknowledge the victims. It also reflects his anger over the government’s desire to move forward as if nothing had happened. The fissure that runs through the centre of the piece represents both the impact of the earthquake and the gulf between values in Chinese society.

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