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How do you transport a touring exhibition halfway across the world? Sarah Hanson explains.

If you were one of the over 250,000 people who visited our fascinating exhibition on graphene, Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond, in 2016, you might be wondering what happened after we packed it all away during the summer. The answer is that it set off on an international tour—excitingly for us, this is the first touring exhibition produced by the Museum of Science and Industry, and it opened just before Christmas at the Hong Kong Science Museum (HKSM).

Entrance to the Wonder Materials exhibition in Hong Kong

But how do you get a whole exhibition halfway around the world? And how much bubble wrap do you need?

In my role as the Touring Exhibitions Coordinator, I was lucky enough to travel to Hong Kong for the exhibition installation and opening. My 16-hour flight was a lot quicker than the exhibition’s journey, though. After the exhibition closed at the Museum of Science and Industry, all the setworks (the plinths, walls and audio-visual bits of the exhibition) and objects were packed into 40 crates and transported down to our large storage facility in Wroughton. Based in two former aircraft hangers, the facility is like a cross between the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark and a curator’s ultimate sweet shop! From there, the cases and fittings started their four-week journey to Hong Kong, travelling by ship and articulated lorry.

The objects, on the other hand, travelled by plane. They were loaded into the aircraft hold under the supervision of the exhibition’s conservator, Sarah Bird. As lead conservator, Sarah travelled with the objects all the way from the UK. She was then responsible for unpacking the object crates, checking the condition of each object, and safely installing each object into position. One of the most interesting parts of her role was ensuring that the lighting levels in the space were set to an acceptable level. Much like Gremlins, objects like the historic maps and models can’t be exposed to bright lights, so we have to ensure they’re protected while also maintaining bright enough conditions for visitors to be able to see and enjoy the objects.

The Wonder Materials exhibition in Hong Kong

The Wonder Materials exhibition in Hong Kong

Installing any exhibition is truly a team effort. Apart from me and Sarah, we had our own install team on hand to make sure the objects were well looked after, and the exhibition was reassembled and installed correctly and safely. We also worked closely with the brilliant staff at HKSM.

The Wonder Materials exhibition in Hong Kong

Installations are a combination of coordination and hands-on tasks. This ranges from making sure everything gets to the museum at the right time, to forklifting crates into some very tight spaces! Once we had everything at the venue, it took the team seven days to get everything in place. For Hong Kong, this included an extra section specially developed by HKSM to meet school groups’ educational learning requirements.

Learning section in the Wonder Materials exhibition in Hong Kong

HKSM also added an entrance area to the exhibition, which featured video and audio from the exhibition to prepare visitors for the content within.

Screens in the entrance to the Wonder Materials exhibition in Hong Kong

Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond opened at HKSM on 15 December 2017, and will be on display until 18 April 2018. It’s been amazing to be part of this first international tour from the Museum of Science and Industry. We’re hoping to tour more of our exhibitions in coming years, so don’t be surprised if the next time you’re holidaying in a foreign clime you find a bit of Manchester in the local museum.

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