Equipping Artistic Expression

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Aggreko, a global company specializing in rental power, cooling, heating, and oil-free compressed air, recently played an integral part in what could have been an explosive piece of artwork. In Houston, the company was hired to control the temperature and humidity inside a 25,000 square foot warehouse to allow world famous Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang two days to complete a 42 panel commissioned gunpowder fired art piece on rice paper.

Artist Cai Guo-Qiang fires up the unpowder on rice paper.

Artist Cai Guo-Qiang fires up the unpowder on rice paper.

On October 17, 2010, the artwork was hung permanently at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH). Specifically, it resides at the entrance to the new Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery.

The artwork, named “Odyssey”, included 42 panels (measuring 162′ long and 10′ high) and was created over two days by applying gunpowder to a stencil and igniting it. Agrekko, working with HAR-CON Mechanical Contractors (the official HVAC and plumbing contractor for the MFAH), engineered a climate control, dehumidification, and air quality system to create a stable, safe environment for the successful gunpowder ignition and art creation on the rice paper canvas.

“Preparing the warehouse for this high profile event was a monumental task, but Aggreko was up for the challenge,” said LeRoy Green, technical specialist, Aggreko North America. “The unfinished and uninsulated warehouse [which was leased by MFAH for the project] is composed mostly of glass and concrete. For several weeks we worked to engineer an air conditioning and dehumidification solution appropriate for the materials used by the artist. We also had to control temperatures to accommodate hundreds of volunteers, staff, and spectators during the set up and a series of live working sessions with the artist, which culminated on October 6 in a spectacular display of gunpowder fired art.”

Aggreko’s equipment at the warehouse included approximately 300' of flexible ducting run around the inside perimeter of the warehouse at a height of 30' feet.

Aggreko’s equipment at the warehouse included approximately 300' of flexible ducting run around the inside perimeter of the warehouse at a height of 30' feet.

Aggreko’s provision of temporary equipment included a 1,000 kVA (kilovolt ampere) generator, a 200-ton chiller, a 10,000 CFM (cubic feet per minute) desiccant dehumidifier, four air handlers, and a 500 GPM (gallons per minute) pump. This meant the environment inside the warehouse could be kept at 68-76°F with 50-55% humidity. The array of equipment was housed outside the warehouse, while flexible ductwork was arranged from the delivery dock doors along the inside perimeter, to keep the space cool while preventing air from blowing directly onto the artist’s work area. Aggreko used a hygrometer to test and control relative humidity along with an anemometer to test and control wind speed, as one of the project’s specific requirements was to prevent even the slightest breeze on the artwork.

“Without the right temperature and relative humidity levels, the rice paper canvas could have been compromised and gunpowder could not have been burned safely or successfully,” said Green. “Aggreko’s temperature control equipment and engineering expertise helped contain fumes and emissions produced when the gunpowder was ignited… We are delighted to have played such an important role in this innovative cultural experience for the Houston community, where our North American operations are headquartered.”

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