We are very lucky to have a dynamic and flexible space which is mainly due to our panelock wall system. The system works with the walls hanging from a metal track, allowing them to move across the whole gallery space and locking in all different ways to enable us to adapt and change the look and feel of the exhibitions. For some shows like the Rugby Open we need maximum wall space. The Gallery officer will try to accommodate as many walls as possible and make the gallery exciting space for work to hide behind other walls so your journey is always a surprise around the gallery. Other exhibitions need space and viewing areas so fewer walls are better. In which case the walls are rolled into the storage room and the space is opened up. We did this for the previous Rugby Collection show curated by David Remfry.
The wall system was put in when the gallery opened in 2000 and therefore makes the system 23 years old. Over this period of time, the wall mechanisms for locking the walls in place have worn and made the manoeuvring of them difficult, not only this but with approx. 5 exhibitions a year over 23 years, the walls have seen approx. 115 layers of paint making them heavier and harder to move. Whilst we have diligently maintained the walls over the years, they have now well exceeded their 15 year life span and it is now the point where they are unsafe to handle and replacement parts are nigh on impossible to find.
Progress is well under way. All of the walls have been lifted out of the building with a hoist (fitted at the time the gallery was opened). The contractors have made the project look easy and are confident that we are on schedule as planned. Weather dependent, the new and improved walls will arrive by lorry next week and will be hoisted in the same way into the gallery, where specialist fitters from Panelock themselves will attach the walls to the track system (which isn't being replaced).
The project hasn't been without its challenges. The building entrance and hoist sits in the very small staff car park. A very narrow alleyway does not give good access to big vehicles, and we have had to think carefully and plan for all eventualities. Working together with all stakeholders we have managed to devise a plan to ensure the walls safe arrival into the gallery. The largest walls which are situated in our drum gallery are 4m tall and not the easiest thing to handle or manoeuvre, particularly when they are being hoisted into the air! The gallery staff were all very excited to see the hoist used - the first time since the original wall install. With our new found confidence and experience using the hoist who knows what the future will hold with large scale sculptures being loaned for shows! (Not sure we should promise this but it's true!)
The new walls will come with a first coat allowing the team to put the final coat of paint on once all the walls are installed. We predict this to take two weeks and be ready in time for us to add the sparkle of colour for the Rugby Open! But what colour will we choose for this year's show? Any recommendations?