Tuesday, November 3, 2009

National Air and Space Museum: Boller & Chivens telescope

On September 30, The National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., opened a Public Observatory to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. Inside, "... the centerpiece of the Public Observatory Project is a 16-inch Boller & Chivens telescope. The telescope was originally part of Harvard-Smithsonian's Oak Ridge Observatory in Harvard, Massachusetts. It was used for astronomical research until recent years, and is now on loan to the National Air and Space Museum for the Public Observatory Project."

I was fortunate to be involved in this project early, helping to prepare details for installation scope and pricing and also serving as the technical advisor, in DC, between the Air and Space Museum and the art handling company which was awarded the contract. The installation of the actual Observatory would be undertaken by a local crane company. I was to be the on-site lead object handler/ rigger for the installation of the telescope under the direction of the great staff at the Museum who put the project together. I saw that they treated the telescope as sculpture and wanted art and art handlers. Conceptually, this was close to what I have been thinking about since I found Marcel Duchamp: the re-examined object.

The telescope arrived @ the Museum in 4 major components. The heaviest was about 1000 lbs. The doorway entrance was 38 1/4" wide, the largest telescope part was at 38" wide on a pallet 42" wide. I remember going to a meeting at the Air and Space Museum where a room of experts met to discuss individual responsibility. As each of us described our parts and answered questions, I was asked to give details on how we were going to get everything in the room through the door: telescope parts, misc. tools, gantry and crew with a floor diameter of 22', as there would be many physical problems to the observatory, including an incomplete dropped floor with exposed plastic conduit which had to be surface protected. Access to finished floor height would be made after the installation. I don't remember how I answered that.

For many personal reasons this project brought to closure an adventure that began as an Art student trying to understand how to handle difficult heavy stones for sculpture. Rigging started as a studio endeavor with ropes and old scaffold and slowly progressed to slings, gantry's and cranes as I began to recognize the rules of rigging and how these rules are used to communicate safety to others in the field, especially with people you have just met on the project site. Proficiency in hand signals, strapping techniques, knots, etc.. is a shared language. Expertise is apparent immediately. Going from project to project, often in different cities and countries, with unknown contractors and crews allows all the responsible parties a way to talk. Each decision underlines how much each of us knows in the moment. For me to have been able to find myself in this environment participating in a dream project with other passionate professionals, working on a crew of best friends I taught and learned from with tools I chose and helped buy, answered many questions about the quality of my own work and direction. It also made me thankful for the hidden gifts of the Art life. Many of us are asked what are we going to do with Art when we are students. I said I didn't know and probably didn't care. To travel idiosyncratically as Artists do day to day, and then find that the life style has value is very much a surprise. For example, I am currently on a project which I'll blog about later, but it involves a Chinese crew responsible for installing large, heavy, beautiful objects with only a minimum knowledge of English. They represent a Collection which humbles me. Through mutual hand signals and techniques we're talking. During a particular difficult rigging moment, they were speaking in Chinese and I responded in English and our hands moved in similar directions. Afterwards we looked at each other and just laughed.

video music: " excerpt Digging a Hole."
Phil Clark: drums, Scott Patti: rhythm guitar, Ben Gage: Lead Guitar