Aping around at Edinburgh Fringe with Unusual Rigging

Photo: Adrian Bell

Born at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2022, House of Oz featured a diverse programme spanning genres and generations, and in its inaugural year, won an award for Best Fringe Venue.

For the 2023 event, Skywalker Gibbon, a giant inflatable gibbon was designed by Melbourne visual artist Lisa Roet.

The venue, a 19th century church and Grade B listed building, required a sensitive solution to allow for the 20m by 6m artwork to be displayed safely, with Adrian Bell, Executive Producer of Blu Fire, calling upon Unusual Rigging to come up with an answer.

“As a listed building, it was vital that whatever the solution, connections to the building should be minimised and as discreet as possible. As luck would have it, when Unusual did their first site visit, they identified that there were already some old eye bolt fixings on the building, indicating a precedent of something having been attached to the venue before. This supported our application to the council, along with the fact that Skywalker is made of fabric so no major flags in terms of potential damage to the building,” Bell explained.

The Unusual team, led by Paul Rhodes explored different options for rigging Skywalker, and decided upon a ground support system, drilled and fixed into the building.

Rhodes explained: “We had to work with the artist’s team to first of all get the right fixings secured to the gibbon before we could attach to the building. Once the truss structure was fixed to the wall, we pulled up the deflated gibbon and, using the primary anchor points, fixed it in place, and then began working around it, first fixing its back and its bottom before getting the arms in position.”

A team of local engineers carried out a wind analysis and supplied calculations in order to have a procedure in place, should the wind reach speeds which would deem it unsafe to keep Skywalker inflated. Additionally, the on-site team is fully briefed to be able to tie it down safely overnight.

“We have guy wires on the system,” added Rhodes, “so that when Skywalker is deflated, the ropes are fixed across the front to keep it safe. A local rigger has also been employed by Blu Fire to carry out weekly inspections to ensure that the artwork can be enjoyed safely.”

“Since the mid- 90s when I first started working with Unusual, it’s been an utter delight to see it’s business as usual.  All it took was one simple phone call to get the wheels of expertise rolling on this intriguing and challenging project,” concluded Bell.