Bubble, bubble toil and trouble

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					2006 ARC CONFERENCE, HOBART Risky business: managing responsibilities and solutions

Bubble, bubble toil and trouble
David Reeves

A surprising sight and smell greeted visitors to     budget, logistics and capacity. Both the timing    • setting duties and requirements
the Auckland Art Gallery’s NEW gallery during        of the selection process and the fact that it is   • co-operation and participation
last winter. Bath robes, bright blue plastic         largely external add an edge to the planning!      • enforcement methods and penalties
foot-grip matting and the faint smell of chlorine    For the Walters Prize, a Gallery project
adorned the Gallery’s foyer – all part of a work     manager is appointed to co-ordinate the            The Act defines specific duties and
of art that was available for visitors to immerse    exhibition along with the normal professional      responsibilities for Employers, Principals
themselves in, literally. The unusual sight and      group of registration, design, conservation,       – those who engage contractors, Suppliers,
smell of the fully operational spa pool was part     curatorial, education and marketing staff but      Employees (both paid and unpaid) and the
of Stella Brennan’s Wet Social Sculpture, a          the determination of the content is largely        Occupational Safety and Health service
selected entry in the biennial Walters Prize.        outside the Gallery’s control. The project also    and other government agencies.
   As can be imagined, the temporary                 has a spontaneity which in part comes from an      Employers must:
installation of a spa pool in a public art gallery   inherent quality of the prize format. Works are    • Provide and maintain:
was not a simple matter and it raised a wide         displayed together which were not conceived            - safe working environments
range of issues to be resolved. Many of these        to be juxtaposed and do not necessarily have           - Health and Safety facilities
revolved around health and safety and risk           any connection except that they have each              - safe plant and machinery
management. The following article discusses          been selected for their recent contribution to     • Ensure employees are not exposed
the background context to managing health            the wider contemporary art environment.                to hazards
and safety at the Auckland Art Gallery and its           The prize format also adds a layer not         • Develop emergency response procedures
implications for working with artists on specific    always present in other group exhibitions or       • Take all practicable steps to ensure no
projects. The example of installing Brennan’s        artist projects – the element of competition.          employee, contractor, or subcontractor
Wet Social Sculpture is used as a particular         The selected artists tend to be even more keen         is harmed
case study.                                          than usual that their work is displayed in the     Critically for the likes of public galleries
                                                     best light, so Gallery staff feel a measure of     and museums, this includes the duty to
The prize exhibition                                 pressure not to compromise the works in fitting    protect the safety of any person legitimately
Named in honour of artist Gordon Walters,            them to new exhibition spaces.                     in the place of work – artists, contractors
the Walters Prize was established in 2002                As well as the conceptual and planning         and members of the public.
to make contemporary art a more widely               risks note above, there are also practical risks       Suppliers must ensure plant and equipment
recognised and debated feature of New                associated with the installation of a spa pool     is safe for intended use including design,
Zealand cultural life. The $50,000 prize,            in a public gallery and it is these, and the       manufacture, maintenance and installation.
modelled on the Tate Britain’s Turner Prize,         management of them, that is the focus here.        In the art gallery context, artists would be
is awarded for an outstanding contribution                                                              treated as suppliers with respect to the works,
to contemporary art in New Zealand in the            The health and safety context                      materials and installations they provide so
two years preceding each award. An external          To start with, an understanding of the general     they have obligations under the legislation.
jury of curators, academics and writers in the       health and safety environment is important.            Employees whether full-time, part-time,
contemporary art field selects the finalists.        The legal and organisational context has a         casual, temporary, volunteers or trainees also
The identities of the jurors is not known, not       subtle but pervasive effect on how we work         have legal obligations. They must ensure their
even to each other, until they meet six months       with artists and contractors in our workplace.     own safety, including the use of protective
prior to the opening of the exhibition to               In New Zealand, matters of health and           clothing and equipment provided, and ensure
deliberate and select the four finalists.            safety are governed and administered at a          that no action or inaction causes harm to others.
    The finalists are not necessarily domiciled      central government level through various               Additional provisions of the HASE Act
in New Zealand, and the body of work for             Statutes, Regulations and guidelines. Several      require workplaces of 30+ employees to
which they are nominated may be simple or            Government Departments and Ministries              have a Health and Safety management
complex, all in one place or scattered over the      are involved and principally two pieces of         system including employee representatives.
globe. Once the artists are selected, the Gallery    legislation set the overall framework:             The Act also protects those representatives
begins to assess the feasibility of assembling       • Health and Safety in Employment Act (HASE)       from discrimination and all employees have
the work or works, often reconfiguring the           • Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Act         the right to refuse unsafe work.
original presentation to meet the particular            (ACC)                                               Government agencies are empowered
confines of the exhibition space.                                                                       to enforce provisions of the HASE Act, issue
    There is a degree of risk for the Gallery in     The HASE Act has an overall objective to           infringement and prohibition notices, and
having external jurors effectively responsible       ‘Promote the prevention of harm to all persons     investigate and prosecute where breaches
for selecting the entire content of an exhibition.   at work and other persons in or in the vicinity    of the Act have occurred. Remedies or
Exhibition development is more normally              of a place of work’ through:                       penalties include reparation paid to victims,
undertaken by an in-house staff group who            • systematic management                            fines of up to $500,000 and possible
plan within (usually) known boundaries of            • defining hazards                                 imprisonment of up to 2 yrs.

                                                                                                      1 the floor of the gallery propped through the
                                                                                                      loading dock beneath to take the weight of the spa pool
                                                                                                      Photo: John McIver, AAG
                                                                                                      2 the gallery foyer as a congested construction site
                                                                                                      during installation. Photo: Jennifer French, AAG
                                                                                                      3 non-slip matting laid for the path between the shower
                                                                                                      and the artwork. Photo: John McIver, AAG
                                                                                                      4 Pool chemicals and testing strips displayed as part
                                                                                                      of the work. Photo: John McIver, AAG



                                                     3                                                4

Accident Compensation Corporation                                                                     requirements under the HASE Act and help to
The other piece of the general framework                                                              maintain the Council’s good rating with respect
which has a significant bearing on health                                               25%           to the ACC scheme. Together they create a
                                                                  Motor vehicle
and safety in the context of the workplace is                   fees & petrol tax      central        general consciousness of health and safety
the Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Act.                                        government       issues which subliminally informs the staff
Although it has undergone various revisions,                                                          approach to a wide range of routine projects.
the Accident Compensation and Rehabilitation                        30%                                   Being part of a bigger machine has its pros
Corporation (ACC) was established in 1974.                        Earners/              25%           and cons. All contractors must be approved
Its founding principle (and is an internationally                employees           Employers        to carry out work on the Council’s behalf or on
noted unique example) is that it provides                                                             Council premises including the Auckland Art
universal no-fault personal injury cover. The                                                         Gallery. The Council pre-approves suppliers
companion provision is that the law removes                                                           and contractors, who must submit health and
the ability to sue for personal injury in New                                                         safety plans for approval prior to contracts
Zealand, except in very limited circumstances.                                                        being awarded. The Council has a documented
    The ACC scheme pays for treatment and            Fig 1. Sources of $2.3 billion ACC funding.
                                                                                                      procedure for including health and safety
rehabilitation following an accident and has                                                          considerations in project plans, and hazard
developed a strong focus on the prevention of                                                         registers are required for specific work localities
accidents. Funding for the ACC comes from                                                             or time periods. Artists making and installing
four major sources – levies on all employers,        and safety management. It is these financial     works in the Art Gallery do not readily fall
contributions paid by all earners or employees,      incentives, as well as enforcement of the        into line with this kind of framework. Never-
a portion of motor vehicle licence fees and          HASE Act, that shape the practical effect of     the-less the Gallery has been able to design
petrol taxes (effectively contributing to the        health and safety in the workplace.              procedures to ensure that it meets its legal and
costs resulting from road accidents), and the                                                         organisational obligations.
balance from central government (covering            So, what does all this mean for the                  Most relevant in the case of the Walter’s
contributions on behalf of children, the elderly     Auckland Art Gallery?                            Prize exhibition, when each of the finalists
and others who do not earn taxable income),          The Gallery is an operational group, owned       were advised of their selection, a formal letter
see Fig 1. In simplistic terms, it amounts to a      and managed by the Auckland City Council.        of invitation and project contract was issued.
centralised insurance scheme that costs about        The Council has duties as an employer, as a      This included clauses covering the artist’s
$575 per person annually.                            principal hiring contractors and as a provider   obligations regarding health and safety, both as
        In the interests of equity, and to provide   of workplaces open to public visitors. Within    suppliers of work and as contractors engaged
incentives for accident prevention, the ACC          this context the Gallery has an active Health    in the installation process.
runs a partnership programme for accredited,         and Safety Committee which conducts
usually large, employers to manage their own         regular hazard checks and provides a forum       The spa pool …
workplace accident costs. Other employers            for issues to be discussed. Procedures are in    Once the four finalists for the 2006 Walters
are offered discounted levies for low-risk           place for the engagement and monitoring of       Prize had been selected, a very hurried few
occupational classes and for sound health            external contractors. These measures meet        weeks followed. Gallery staff had to investigate

It can be a tricky balance between respecting
and upholding the integrity of a work of art …
and meeting obligations presented by the law
and visitors’ expectations and behaviour.

                                                    5                                                    6

the scope and feasibility of each of the artist’s   report concluded that there was only one             a concern – we have temporary storage for
projects. The four selected works were:             possible location to safely position the spa         works of art on the floor below the exhibition
• Phil Dadson’s Polar Projects 2004,                pool – in the gallery foyer. And even this was       space. And like all good temporarily stored
   multiple video and soundscapes,                  dependent on propping the floor from below           works, these have become more or less
• Peter Robinson’s The Humours 2005,                which unfortunately put the loading dock out         permanent. So the spa pool room was designed
   an installation of large urethane, wood          of action for four months.                           with a raised floor to accommodate a drainage
   and fibreglass works,                                The next significant issue was to deal           tray. This also involved plumbing a drainpipe
• Francis Upritchard’s Doomed, Doomed,              with the humidity. A spa pool operating at           and S-trap through the gallery floor. All up
   All Doomed 2005, an installation of              38°C evaporates a great deal of moisture,            it became a significant construction project
   various figurative sculptures worked             especially in a gallery environment which has        which presented new hazards. The required
   from found objects,                              systems designed to keep the environment at          location of the work, in the gallery foyer, meant
• and Stella Brennan’s Wet Social Sculpture         a moderate 50-60% RH. There was significant          that pedestrian access had to maintained
   2005, a video installation to be viewed          objection to the project going ahead at all          right next to the construction zone. This was
   while sitting in a spa pool.                     because of the potential effect on the climate       particularly problematic as although the gallery
Interestingly, the 2006 Walters Prize did           in the rest of the building. Without isolating       was technically closed, the congested foyer
not include a single painting, drawing or           the pool in some way, the building systems           was the only route to the gallery education
photograph. The first three projects involved       would have effectively been working 24 hours         programme’s classroom which remained in
media that the Gallery is used to dealing with.     a day trying to suck the pool dry. It began to       use with pre-booked classes throughout the
However, the spa pool was new territory.            look near impossible to meet our obligations         construction period. Streams of small children
                                                    to provide a stable climate for other items on       and builders’ activity with nail-guns and the
    A range of risks and health and safety          display in the building.                             like are not good companions, so this required
issues arose from various aspects of the                The solution, to provide at least some           close communication and management, and
project. These included the initial feasibility     control, was to build a separate sealed room         was not without the occasional hiccup.
and siting of the work, the process of              within the gallery to contain the spa pool. When         The next issues arose from the operation
installation, its operation during the exhibition   previously displayed, the work of art was in         of the work of art as a public pool. Health
and the ongoing monitoring and remedial work.       a large open gallery space and without close         regulations meant that visitors using the pool
    The first job was to find a safe location for   climate control. Building it into a separate small   would have to shower before immersing
three tonnes of water. The Gallery building         room required involvement and negotiation            themselves. Unsurprisingly, the gallery space
is housed in the former Auckland Telephone          with the artist as it, of course, became a           is not routinely equipped with a shower and
Exchange, converted to gallery use 12 years         significant change in the display of the work.       changing facilities for public use, so they too
ago. While its floor loadings were designed         Working with each of the Walters Prize artists       had to be built. A storeroom and wash-up area
for heavy exchange equipment, the building          was an expected part of the project but it was       used by the education staff was requisitioned
is now 90 years old and the conversion had          particularly critical with Brennan because of the    and converted for the duration of the exhibition.
removed a number of columns to open up the          significant physical and operational constraints     Next problem – people traipsing wet feet
usable spaces. While it is still safe for normal    the work posed.                                      through the gallery on their way between the
public exhibition use, a structural engineer’s          The risk of flooding was also identified as      shower and the artwork would leave slippery

                                                                                                       5 Handrail installed after repeated problems with
                                                                                                       visitors tripping. Photo: John McIver, AAG
                                                                                                       6 raised floor under construction
                                                                                                       Photo: Jennifer French, AAG
                                                                                                       7 Bathrobes hung as part of the installation when not
                                                                                                       in use by visitors. Photo: Jennifer French, AAG
                                                                                                       8 Guests at the exhibition opening soaking in the art!
                                                                                                       Photo: Jennifer French, AAG

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puddles of water on the gallery floor, so         testing strips were added to the display             domino effect of regulatory requirements
non-slip matting needed to be laid. Careful       effectively documenting the life of the work.        come into play. It takes time also to explore
selection was involved to ensure that this in          Much was learnt from the experience of          cost-effective solutions to resolve conflicts
turn did not become a tripping hazard. Health     the 2006 Walters Prize exhibition. The               between the artist’s desires and intentions
regulations also required that adequate notices   (in)adequacy of the length of time to plan the       for the presentation of their work, and the
be displayed advising people of the need          various projects was often raised during the         gallery’s responsibility to provide a safe
to take a shower. By working with the artist      process, especially as works were selected           public place of work. It can be a tricky
we incorporated this signage into the overall     by an outside panel and a period of negotiation      balance between respecting and upholding
design of the installation.                       is likely to be required in adapting works to a      the integrity of a work of art (one of the
    Strict requirements are in place around       new gallery space. But there is a critical tension   core values of a public gallery) and meeting
preventing unsupervised access by children        between needing plenty of planning time and          obligations presented by the law and visitors’
to a publicly accessible, in fact any, pool.      the prize format representing the best of recent     expectations and behaviour.
This is was one aspect at least where the         art practice. If the works were selected too far         Having a strong culture of health and
location of the work in the Gallery foyer         in advance the Prize as an event would loose         safety among staff, driven both by the legal
worked in our favour. Constant surveillance       its freshness and immediacy.                         and regulatory framework within which we
was available as there is always a staff member        We also discovered areas for improvement        work, and by strong management support
on the reception desk only 2-3 metres from        in exhibition planning and responsibilities.         and visibility means that issues are identified
the door to the ‘pool’ room. Another gallery      During the course of the exhibition, post-           quickly and early. As project logistics are being
guide was also assigned to monitor the            opening, a number of safety and operational          discussed, the consideration of the health
pool’s use and be available to observe it         issues became apparent. Going into the               and safety risks is second nature. It is also
directly when people were indulging in the        dimly-lit spa pool room (dimly lit so that the       important however to be open to continual
warm waters.                                      projected video images could be viewed               improvement and learn from the tricky
    Maintaining water quality also became         properly), visitors were frequently tripping on      situations we find ourselves in.
a daily task. Nasty illnesses can result from     the entry ramp up to the raised floor. A solution        Having mastered the installation and
poorly kept spa pools so monitoring the water     had to be found quickly to prevent further           operation of a spa pool in the gallery our
quality and adding chemicals was carried out      incidents but there was some uncertainty about       appetite for challenge knew no bounds: the
by the gallery guides as part of their set-up     who should take responsibility for devising          following exhibition project – turbulence the 3rd
duties each day. The artist was keen that         and approving a fix – the artist? the exhibition     Auckland Triennial – included a work by artist
this process be a visible part of the work        designer? the curator? the management team?          Yuk King Tan, effectively a wall drawing made
adding an extra level of engagement between       A stainless steel handrail was eventually added      from around 8,000 live firecrackers. No worries!
the viewer and the artwork. Care had to be        with everyone’s agreement but it probably took
                                                                                                       David Reeves is Senior Registrar at Auckland Art Gallery.
taken in displaying the containers of pool        longer than would have been ideal.
chemicals – they are classed as hazardous              This exhibition also provided a stark           Adapted from a presentation delivered to the Arc conference
                                                                                                       in Hobart november 2006
substances so a shelf beyond the reach of         example of how a project, which on the surface
children but still at adequate viewing height     looks only slightly more complex than usual,
was needed. Even the colourful daily pH           can suddenly have its budget explode once the


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