The rickety aluminum ladder spanned five feet on the floor and ascended ten feet in height. Terry scaled it like a young chimp, sure-footed; she perched herself at the top. Imperious, like a surgeon in surgery, she held out her hand and demanded “yardstick”. She steeled herself, centering her mass. She pulled the pencil from above her ear with one hand, with the other she measured a distance down from the ceiling and ticked a mark on the dove-grey gallery wall. She, then, aligned the yardstick horizontal from that pencilled mark and measured off a distance. Then she snubbed the yardstick up to the ceiling vertically and marked off a measurement equal to the pencil mark on the other side. She poked the pencil above her ear, and held down the yardstick. “Hammer” she called out.
Flora, the curator, hopped to it; she grabbed the yardstick and placed the hammer into Terry’s outstretched hand. She stepped back and joined Looking-for-Beauty who was standing back photographing the proceedings with her digital camera. I slouched beside them and watched this young woman perching so surely on that ladder. LFB showed me some shots on her camera screen. Great photos, even if Terry was shown from the back. She took some balletic poses; her oversized black t-shirt and black tights made wonderful, unexpected, shapes against her outstretched arms.
Terry fished some nails from her waistband, held one between her lips and made to fasten the other into the wall. A couple of efficient slaps of the hammer seated the nail. She stretched to the other side, plucked the nail from between her pursed lips, positioned it with a deft touch and pounded it into place. “OK, you guys, bring the scroll,” she said and turned from the waist to watch Flora and me roll up either end of the ten-foot paper scroll and position it between the ladder and the wall.
Flora and I unfurled the top part; Terry pulled it into place at the top of the wall and secured the hanging clips to the nailheads. She scooted down from the ladder and pulled it back a few feet. Flora and I unrolled the bottom of the scroll and let it hang. Terry stood back and appraised the level of the top edge. “It’s off level,” she said. “G, please bring me the big level.” She pushed the ladder back into its original position, scaled the rungs, grabbed her pencil with a flourish and held down her other hand to receive the level. She calculated, made a corrective pencil mark on the wall to raise one side of the scroll, handed down the level and exchanged it for the hammer Flora handed up to her. Within seconds she corrected the position of the nail and rehung the scroll, now perfectly horizontal and vertical.
Once she had climbed down, we all stood back and admired the tall multi-media painting/drawing. We scanned the overall impression made by the rest of the works on the gallery walls. Terry had hung the large works with use of the tall ladder. Sarah and I had hung all the medium and small sized works. LFB had documented the process, and Flora had overseen the positioning and sequencing of the whole exhibition. We had worked largely in silence as a team and the installation seemed to have taken hardly any time at all.
I was so happy that I could do my little bit, in spite not being able to see clearly the measurements as Sarah and I worked with the tape, level, hammer, hangers and pencil. But it was Sarah’s first time in doing an exhibition installation, and I could help her routinize the system of hanging a series of same-sized works. It is a method much like riding a bycicle – once you have mastered the skills and routines, doing it once again even after a long absence is the same as getting back on the bike and riding off. I must say, I returned home afterward with a certain feeling of satisfaction. I like being part of a work team; it feels great to accomplish such a job.
At the exhibition opening next Saturday, Sarah, LFB, I, Terry and Flora will have the pleasure of seeing the young artist’s reaction to seeing his works hanging in the gallery space. We know his studio is not large enough to permit such a preview of how his series looks, up all together in a space designed for viewing the impact of this body of work. I know we are all hoping he will have a spurt of pleasurable satisfaction and pride when he first casts his eyes on all this. His work, after all has been a labour of love and deserves love of labour from all of us in bringing it to public viewing.