A moment of jubilation, a three-dimensional painting, thousands of fluttering, colourful strands. Hundreds of thousands in fact. Finale: Bouquet represents the culmination of work by Australia artist Nike Savvas and a Te Papa team entrusted with realising her monumental artwork. Here, spatial designer Vioula Said and exhibition preparator Sam Wallis run you through what went into bringing it to life.
The planning – Vioula Said, spatial designer
Sam and I were entrusted with developing a method that would see Sydney-based Nike Savvas’s vision for Finale: Bouquet come to fruition in her absence. It was a daunting thought; not about the amount of work or number of hours that would need to go into this, but the pressure and expectation around delivering someone else’s vision without them there to give you direction.
We understand now that this was just as daunting for Nike. This was the first time she had handed over a piece of work to an institution to deliver without her personal attention and direction.
Nike’s intention was for the artwork to be an installation of nylon strands with coloured PVC tabs to create a room filled with ‘confetti, frozen mid-air’. It would hang from the ceiling and fill up the entire gallery – seamlessly, but also random, as though not organised in space. No corridors. No strands touching. No bands of colours. No grid appearance within the work itself. It was to fade into the floor, disguising its connection…
You can maybe picture our faces? How was this even doable? How were we going to go about structuring this piece of work?
This was what we spent the next six months on: researching, gathering, trialling things. We failed, and we succeeded. But most importantly, we survived – and are all still friends!
As a spatial designer, my role in Finale: Bouquet started small: to ensure the project would meet spatial regulations as the work took shape. However, it quickly grew into something a lot bigger.
Structural engineering (aka how to hang it)
A piece of my work was based around the structural engineering – initially coming up with a structural suspension system and a set of drawings, working through this with the team, then taking that to our engineers WSP to refine and ensure it would calculate to requirements.
The structural engineering of our bespoke hanging system was hugely dependent on supplying a ceiling grid plan that was 100% accurate, and reflected everything that may get in the way (such as the lighting grid) when installing.
In order to get this right, it took Sam and I a number of mornings up on a scissor lift re-measuring our ceiling grid – particularly the positioning of our truss systems and re-documenting them for engineering use.
To us, it was really important that the structural elements worked within the desired parameters and positioning of Finale: Bouquet as these were things we had agreed to with Nike. We could have shifted by a metre here or there to suit the existing structure, but we felt a desire and obligation to find the solutions to ensure we stayed true to her vision.
Next was to meticulously layout 6,000 points, correlating to the positioning of each strand.
The illusion of spontaneity that you see took 30 hours of planning. We committed to a number of 6,000 strands, which would not fill the entire footprint if equally distributed, so the task was to create the impression that they were equally distributed by working with a defined density on the perimeters and a gradual disparity on the interior.
This is easier said than done. It took a number of calculations, lots of miscalculations, and more than 12 different modules to work through before we finally got there.
The first 2.4 metres at the perimeter of the work – the part you are closest to when you walk around it – holds more than half of the overall number of strands. If I was at all successful in breaking this up into the correct proportions, you (before reading this!) will hopefully have had no idea that the density changes.
This was my first experience working with an artist on a newly commissioned artwork, and I have to say I entered it with some trepidation: I didn’t understand how I could be responsible for the way the installation would be laid out, piece by piece, those 6,000 strands… It felt like a huge piece of work that would be deemed redundant after the installer got the hang of it. Couldn’t it just be hung randomly?
However, when watching how the installation team would come to use the patterns – as outlined below – there was a huge sense of accomplishment, and justification for those 30 hours spent moving little colourful rectangles on my computer screen.
The installation – Sam Wallis, exhibition preparator
Vioula’s pattern became an invaluable tool that provided the co-ordinates, quantity, and strand type for the entire footprint of Finale: Bouquet. You may think that it would be easy to freestyle this, but I challenge you to position 6,000 strands within 168 square metres and not run out before you reach the end!
I think the success of this project really does come down to the planning time before the install. The strands themselves only took 17 days (but our journey began six months before that), marked by a site visit by Nike Savvas. Without that, all this planning, ownership in doing right by Nike, the meticulously drawn pattern, all the test hangs and discussions with the install crew… it just wouldn’t have been possible to pull off what we did in those 17 days.
The illusion of randomness in Finale: Bouquet is due to the six different strands. Designed by Nike herself, each of the different strands has their own unique distribution of the seven colours that make up the work, all with varying distances between each PVC tab. Vioula’s pattern represents the six different strands, with a different colour indicating each one via the top tab on the strand.
Finding a way to manually transfer the co-ordinates and strand colour from the patterns posed the biggest challenge and created another step that needed to fit alongside the other considerations: accuracy, practicality, speed, and mental and physical fatigue.
When we realised it would take over 100 metres of paper to print the patterns out at 1:1 scale, it was obvious that this was not a sustainable solution and I set about finding another approach.
What replaced the 1:1 scale runs of paper were eight sheets of thinline (or 3mm MDF). Each sheet of thinline was ruled out with a grid exactly the same dimensions as the mesh ceiling. We trialed this, timing it and tweaking it until it felt right. We even tried freestyling it, which took the same amount of time, but when it came to dropping the strands it resulted in too many of the same type becoming clumped together which is not what we wanted.
Each of the thinline sheets were laid out on the white base, squared to match the mesh ceiling above, and fixed down. What Shannon – aka ground controller – is doing here is translating the A3 patterns onto the sheets of thinline.
As each co-ordinate from the pattern was transferred with a sharpie, a laser level was positioned over the mark on the thinline, which threw out two lines – one to the mark just made and another to the corresponding position on the mesh ceiling. The ground controller would also call out the strand colour indicated on the pattern to someone up top in a scissor lift, and that person would place a little coloured piece of gaffer tape wherever the little laser dot landed.
When the start of the install neared, I crossed my fingers that the hard part was out of the way and that all the planning we’d done would pay off. My focus during the install was not only to be a pair of hands on the ground: I was also Nike’s eyes. Like Vioula with the pattern, I was entrusted with ensuring her intentions were being delivered. As useful as the patterns were, they could not account for what you would see as the work began to take shape.
As the strands grew out from under the bridge, gaps and corridors were closed, overlapping strands removed, nylon tangles unpicked, and as every strand went down the opportunity to get back in there and alter anything unseen diminished.
With good music, a superstar crew, the occasional stretch, and growing enthusiasm from passers-by on the bridge, we made it with one day to spare and our sanity intact (just!).
There’s always a moment in the final days of an installation that brings a sense of completion and relief. Our moment of true jubilation for this project was watching Nike’s reaction to seeing her work for the first time. Her reaction made the lengthy process worth it.
By the numbers
- 200,000+ pieces of confetti
- 6,000 strands
- 6 variations of colour
- 68 grams per strand, for a total artwork weight of roughly 400 kg
- 6 installers
- 816 hours to install