Want to move a plinth? Can’t lift that object? Desperately looking for a screwdriver? For all of these museum dramas and more you need to call the technician team.
As the muscles of a museum, technicians are loved by every department but their vital role is often underestimated. Rarely seen and often heard the technicians do not spend their time researching influential papers and presenting themselves to the public but without them exhibitions would go uninstalled, objects would go un – conserved and works would never leave the stores. So, collections team: what would you do without a Museum technician?
After spending some time working as a tech in a large institution I was often asked; ‘What exactly do technicians do?’ Technicians working in small private galleries to national museums are known by many names across the industry; some are called Object handling technicians, others are known as Art handlers but many are a combination of the two. Their role is hard to pin point and differs across institutions however, throughout the sector; two aspects dominate the controlled movement of objects and the installation of the exhibition.
|Much time is spend pondering the best handling technique|
Being responsible for the controlled movement of objects is a task involving an unquantifiable amount of variables. Moving objects between conservation studios and unpacking them for researchers is the easy part, whereas packing large objects to go out on national or international loan can be a highly pressured environment - especially with those pesky registrars watching your every move! Additionally Techs are responsible for the controlled movement of objects between the museums sites, putting objects on trucks, and accompanying them from the stores to the museum can be a very daunting task. Knowing how to tie a trucker’s knot helps!
Check out the Object Handlers pushing important objects about.
Contrary to popular belief curators do not install exhibitions. There is no doubt they work hard researching the collection and selecting objects, but their vision is fully realised by the hard work of the technicians. The incredibly strong technicians who painstakingly keep objects aligned while the curators march three rooms down to ‘check the sightlines’ and shout ‘left a bit, right a bit: THERE!’ In this setting, the technician’s role becomes highly specialised and a wealth of tools and equipment are essential to complete the installation safely; many techs will have licenses for exciting machinery like forklifts or genie lifters. Techs are never without their tool bag. This piece of luggage is full of goodies like fancy brightly coloured screwdrivers and torches for every technical need – and seemingly, everyone else: a technician becomes anyone’s best friend when they have a screwdriver.
A technician would be nothing without outstanding manual and physical dexterity – basically, the ability to hold onto things without dropping them, which is tenfold more difficult than it would seem. As you’re aware, items in a collection come in many different shapes, sizes and weights and so A LOT of time is spent pondering the best way to move something. There are of course the horror stories of how objects have been dropped and shattered beyond conservation but most technicians are extremely careful and some even participate in the Technician Olympics!
Could your techs switch sculptures that quickly? Keep an eye out for techs flexing their muscles and always return their screwdriver.