What just happened?

I’m now back in France resting and reflecting on my exhibition “Raw Hope” held at the Noyes Cultural Center in Evanston, IL. I’ve been working toward this show for over a year and I wanted to make note of all that I did and learned through the process of creating, shipping and installing a solo exhibition on the other side of the Atlantic. The experience pushed me out of my comfort zone as I worked through a series of obstacles and challenges involved with this show.

Here’s what was involved.

Setting the Dates

Seems like this would be easy but there was actually a mix up in communication about the opening. The Noyes Gallery has two events, the opening and the artist reception. I didn’t realize this and as a result I broadcast the opening on the wrong date. I attribute this to the difficulty of time difference communication. Something to double check in the future!

Creating the work

Exhibition maquette

Maquette of the gallery space

Not being able to see the space was a challenge. This was a cultural center and not a commercial gallery so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was given a documentation of the size of the walls but there was no clear idea of what the space itself was like.

I decided to create a maquette to scale based on the documentation I was given. I also printed out the work I had to scale. It was useful to see how much work I needed and plan how it would hang together. I was glad I took the time for this step. About 3 months before the exhibition I realized I needed more work and because I did this crucial step, there was still enough time to create enough work to fill the space. It was also helpful to have a layout plan when it was time to set up the show.

How will it hang?

The gallery space uses a cable installation system for their exhibitions. This is challenging for my work as it needs to be hung from the top and using the cable system would mean some unsightly hooks would be showing for every piece. I had to work out different ideas on how this work would be installed.

Eventually my husband / engineer devised a system where light weight aluminium tubes would be be held in the back of each piece by fabric casings. The casings were velcroed onto the back of the work and could be adjusted as needed. Each tube had a hole drilled through and the cable could be threaded through and secured under the tube.  In addition a drilled hole perpendicular to the  wall allowed a thin wooden spacer to uniformly give some space between the work and the wall. This final step gave the appearance of the work floating on the wall.

Packing

I was fortunate that the kind of work I do is very light weight and not too difficult to pack. After the show was over I would most likely be having someone else take it down and pack it for the return so I took notes and photos on the process.

The work was wrapped around pool noodles with a layer of plastic between each piece. Rolling helped to reduce wrinkling and the need for ironing. Plastic sheeting between each piece controlled any loose fiber also protected it from moisture.  I ordered moving boxes online and fabricated the correct sizes needed. I packed  photos of what was inside each bo. Some of the boxes contained other smaller empty boxes to keep the contents from moving around without adding weight.

Once the boxes were unpacked at the other end, I was careful  to keep all the materials and documentation so it would be easy to repack.

You can click on these images to see how it was done.

Shipping and Customs

The next hurdle was finding out how to get everything across the border. Originally I planned to take it all on the plane as luggage. I knew I needed documentation for the process.  Here’s what I learned:

  • I live in France but I always fly out of the Zurich airport. The day of my flight I would need to bring official documentation of the goods to the border to have it exported from France and imported into Switzerland.
  • Once at the Zurich airport the documentation would be inspected as in import and then I would need to refile the goods as an export out of Switzerland
  • When I arrived in Chicago I would have to present the documentation for to import it into the US

I decided this was not a realistic option and left too much to chance – especially because it would all need to be done the day of travel.  I decided to ship it through a carrier who is experienced in handling import / export details.

After researching shipping options I decided to send one box via DHL and one with UPS. They were comparable in price and customer reviews.  These services are typically deal with businesses and it was impossible to get information on shipping as nor for profit. I ended up claiming a low resale value just to get the job done. As a result I had to pay some custom fees but I just added that to the cost of doing business.

The DHL box was delivered promptly and without problem. The UPS delivery made it to the building but the driver could not figure out which room to make the drop. The delivery was missing for a few days but after desperate attempts to contact customer service, it was located and delivered.  In the future DHL will be my shipper and I will include tracking device.

The boxes were sent 3 weeks in advance, they both made it there in 10 days, something to note for next time.

Installation

Once my husband and I arrived in Chicago we arrived at the gallery. We agreed to do the installation because it was a cultural center with limited resources and I really wanted to have control over the installation. It was fairly straight forward process because of all the preparation done in advance. I am eternally grateful to my husband who is an engineer. He stood by and helped me every step of the way. I doubt I could have done this without him.

Final Thoughts

It’s taken me almost a month to process all that has happened on this journey. It was extremely challenging and at one point I did have to ask myself  “why”? I thought long and hard about it. I came to the conclusion that it was hard… and that’s part of the reason why. I’ve always loved a challenge, I run marathons, hiked the grand canyon, taken jobs with inappropriate experience. One of the biggest challenges I face is going to my studio everyday to express myself through burlap and thread. Getting the work out into the world is as hard as making it, but the reward is great. To stretch beyond my comfort level and challenge my abilities makes me feel alive. I’ve come to know that through overcoming obstacles and challenges we grow.  It’s my way of honouring  my full potential as a human being.

See how it all came together 

9 rue Charles Wolf, F68730 Blotzheim, France | janet@jaffkestudio.com  | +33 (0)6 10 53 44 18

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