I knew that a nasty job awaited me after the exhibition opening; namely cleaning up the floor in Roskilde, but quite how nasty, I wasn’t aware. I am writing it up as a blog post because I think it presents important lessons in terms of renting additional workspace for temporary production of artworks.
On the first day back from Aarhus I went to work on the floor; scrubbing it with a steel scourer and concentrated cleaning fluid. Despite being water based paint, it was hard work to remove it. Eventually it was coming off, but it was leaving a dull mark where the high gloss of the epoxy floor paint had also been scrubbed off. I considered, that being a workshop, this was acceptable, but I was to find out that it was not. After two days’ scrubbing (approx. 10 hours), I had done about half the floor, and was told by Lars, the carpenter who had negotiated the space, that he didn’t know if it would be acceptable. I had to call the owner of the space who agreed to come the next day and take a look. The next day, Wednesday, I learnt that it wasn’t acceptable to the owner; he said that the floor had been freshly painted and in order to rent out the space he needed it returned in the same state. Lars had known this he said; why hadn’t we put down plastic before painting.
I tried to explain – in Danish – that I had protected the floor as far as possible, with cardboard and plastic, hence the minimal marks, but I had come into a situation where large, 200kg, sections of sculpture had already been set up and screwed together for stability, with no plastic underneath. Mikkel – the lead carpenter – had then gone on holiday leaving me to paint, and while I could ask Lars and his helpers to move occasional pieces, I wasn’t made to feel that I could ask them to completely rearrange the whole workshop. Besides the moment to lay down plastic would have been before arranging all the pieces for painting. Not acceptable of course. Lars offered to help by finding the number of the painter who had done the job – rather condescendingly, he said he should call the painter first to explain in Danish so I could then call and he would understand!
When I reached the painter by phone, on Thursday, he told me that the paint was even more expensive than I feared: £150 for 3 litres; he estimated that a full coat of the floor would require 20 litres! He was amazingly helpful though in that he said he could come on Sunday to meet Radu – who had offered to do the painting so I could avoid the fumes, being pregnant, and give him some of the paint (which we would pay for of course) since it was only sold to ‘professional painters’. We decided it was best to attempt a retouch rather than a full coat. On Friday I went back to scrub again for 6 hours; not to completely remove the rest of the paint, I didn’t have time for that, but at least to remove most of it, so that one coat of floor paint would suffice.
By this point Mikkel and Lars had clearly washed their hands of the whole situation: both had told me in no uncertain terms that it was my responsibility and mine alone to return the floor in the original condition: despite never having told me the terms on which we were renting the space in the first place (to be returned immaculate), and the fact that they were essentially responsible for the mess. Lars telling me that he had offered me plastic free of charge missed the point completely; I could not insert plastic under 200kg sections of sculpture alone and they should have done it.
A big lesson learnt: if you rent a place via someone else, make sure you find out under what terms it is being rented before you start work so you can’t have the responsibility suddenly shifted onto you retrospectively as happened here.
Radu went yesterday to paint; he was pleased with the result he had achieved with the five litres of paint the painter gave him. He returned the keys to Lars and if there are any further complaints from the landlord we will abdicate further responsibility. In the end there is no contract linking us to that space. Sadly, I won’t be working with either Lars or Mikkel again; communication is of the essence and it was lacking here; in fact any recognition of its importance was lacking and worst of all, instead of apologising, they abdicated responsibility.