Monday, May 26, 2008


First things first. This is a reprint of a blog post I did for the Carnegie International website. However, I'm not too into their format, so I'm also posting it on here, and I will continue to do so with other posts for the site. Plus then I can add extra stuff they wouldn't necessarily be super down with. And I can swear. Yeah. That shit is liberating. Anyways, here is the link to the website itself should you be interested in seeing it in its original format, and below is the more humble and essentially exactly verbatim copy, including a brief explanation of who I am and what I was doing.

Since this is my first blogpost for the International website, let me start by introducing myself – my name is Matthew Cummings. I started working on the International in mid-January, coming in a couple days a week and helping in the offices with things related to the catalog. The real fun, however, didn’t really start until February, when I started working with the art handlers installing the Kai Althoff – you know, the round red room. We began that project with a newly (nearly) finished white cube of a room, an intricate package of instructions, lots of photographs, quite a bit of red plexi-glass, and close to twenty curved wooden ribs. As we leafed through the package, we realized our first problem…all the measurements were in metric. In millimeters. While a tape measure was sent for with both metric and imperial increments on it, we paged through the “instructions” and realized this wasn’t going to be easy.

Our first challenge was to lay out the room with a grid of lines that were completely plumb and level, across all the walls and the ceiling. This was necessary because the plexi is attached to the walls and ceiling with industrial strength Velcro tape, and our lines of tape on the floor and ceiling had to line up exactly with the tape that was already on the panels when they arrived from Switzerland. After a couple days of trial and error laying out lines, applying Velcro tape, and stapling it down to ensure it would stay put we were finally ready to put up our first panels. We started with the ceiling, because once we built the wooden ribs along the two curved walls, it would be very difficult to access. To get to the ceiling, which was sixteen feet high, we were using scissor-lifts – electronic pneumatic lift platforms that were on wheels, which you could drive using a joystick whether you were sixteen feet in the air or flat on the ground. To give some sense of scale, the room itself was around 25 feet by 25 feet, and 16 feet high. There were usually two scissor-lifts in use at the same time, each of which is about 7 feet long and two feet wide or so – the point is things could get crowded fairly quickly and there wasn’t a lot of margin for error when you were driving. (Needless to say, all my suggestions we race through the galleries on them, or set up obstacle courses (ie, art) and weave through were ignored.) To place the ceiling panels, the two scissor lifts would line up next to each other, with two people in each lift. Between the four of us we would hold one plexi panel above our heads, and raise the lifts up towards the ceiling. Once at the requisite level, it was just a matter of lining things up correctly. Putting up the ceiling panels themselves took close to an entire weekend.

From the ceiling we moved on to the two flat walls, which were much easier because we weren’t in such an awkward position putting up the panels. At this point the crew, which varied in size from four to six people divided into two loose groups. While a few people were putting up those panels, the other group started installing the wooden ribs that would create the two curved walls. Each rib was in three sections, which, when assembled, would extend from floor to ceiling creating a large C shape. There were 7 full ribs that went from floor to ceiling on each side, and then several smaller partial ribs that sat between the full ones to support the weight on the bottom. After we installed all the ribs, we covered each side in a skin of masonite – a material that is sort of a median between corrugated cardboard and 1/8th inch plywood. Over that we, again, did our tape grid, and then beginning at the top, placed the sheets of plexi, curling them into place by applying pressure at the bottom and tightly fitting each against the next. The result was an incredibly tempting arena for a skateboarder, that is, until we removed the lights and discovered how the shape of the room could really mess with your perceptions of the space you were in. The middle sections of each curved wall recessed much farther into darkness than we had realized they would, and, coupled with the reflective nature of the material created the illusion that the wall was flexing back and forth between flatness and concavity. After we put down the carpet, the bulk of our work was essentially done. We just awaited Kai Althoff’s arrival to install the sculptural elements.

As we worked on the installation, we were constantly musing as to what the piece was actually about, particularly what the room represented (A womb? Inside a volcano? Hell? Mars?). And we joked around, which brings me to the title of this post. After a week or so of working on the Althoff, I suddenly wondered – maybe his name isn’t Kai (pronounced k-eye), but Kai (pronounced Ka-eeeeeeeeee). Kaiiiiiiiii! It soon became our rallying cry…well not really, but we would shout it from time to time and, I’m sure, confuse all the contractors working in the galleries.

Okay: So that is the end of the post from the International website. I wanted to add this picture below, which I took on my iphone, of me standing on one of the aforementioned scissor lifts, reflected in the red plexi. Kinda nifty.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Show is Over

Okay, so the show isn't actually over, but my work on it is. I am, for the most part, done with my work on the Carnegie International. The opening was Friday May 2nd (which is like, a while ago), and was a lot of fun although I, like an idiot, forgot to take any pictures, but hopefully there will be some forthcoming photos from friends who were also there. Anyways, I arrived on Friday at around 9pm, and parking in the back, got my first chance to see the Doug Aitken film, which is projected on the front and back of the museum. Entitled Migration, his film involves beautiful footage of American wildlife - deer, a horse, a bison, hares, etc - in what appear to be abandoned, or at least empty hotel rooms. Seemed like an appropriate work for a show called Life on Mars. It's quite interesting to see the animals exploring the rooms, which are all still made up as if waiting for guests to arrive. From one perspective its pretty funny - theres something hilarious about the idea of opening your hotel room door and seeing a bison there in the middle of the room in a fairly confused state. A series of jump cuts showing first one hare on a bed, then two, then four, are also very funny. On the other hand, the piece looks at where we as people have come to, in our own evolution, that placing wild animals in idealized constructed living environments for humans creates such a sense of tension. Does this maybe infer that the inverse - humans out in the wild - is as unusual? Or maybe Doug Aitken just wanted to see some critters go wild in a Best Western. Regardless, its a beautiful film. Unfortunately, my camera is broken, so I can't include my own photos of it. But I can steal them from flickr...

He did a similar style piece on MOMA called "Sleepwalkers," last year, which looked really incredible. You can see a trailer for it here and video of it installed here.

Update: I found a cool image of "Sleepwalkers" when going through stuff I had on my flash drive from working on the CI08 catalog.