x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Artist-in-residence to make paper replica of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Su Blackwell will spend two-weeks at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, working in the hotel's lobby.

Su Blackwell's previous creations include replicas of some famous Fairmont-owned hotels around the world made out of the hotel visitors' guest books. Ccourtesy Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
Su Blackwell's previous creations include replicas of some famous Fairmont-owned hotels around the world made out of the hotel visitors' guest books. Ccourtesy Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

The British artist Su Blackwell has forged a successful career by making paper sculptures from old books.

After buying up unsold copies of vintage novels in bookshops, she then goes about transforming the tomes into arcanely complex, three-dimensional dioramas.

By delicately splicing and removing pages, she rearranges them into scenes and landscapes that seem to organically grow from the books.

Next week, however, rather than being sequestered in her London studio to create her latest masterpiece, she is relocating to the conspicuously public space of a five-star hotel lobby in Abu Dhabi. Blackwell has been selected as the artist-in-residence for the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr.

From Sunday until May 11, visitors can look on as she constructs a model of the city's most famous landmark, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

This will be cut from a specially produced, extra-large copy of the folk tale compendium One Thousand and One Nights, also known as Arabian Nights.

As well as giving guests the chance to witness various stages of the mosque recreation in her lobby-based studio, Blackwell will host workshops to offer an insight into her techniques.

Speaking over the phone before she left for the UAE, she explains that it can take up to two months to produce the models. So, ensuring she hits deadline during her two-week stint at the Fairmont requires thorough advance preparation and precision planning.

"My assistant and I are sketching our designs for the model, preparing templates and really just making sure we can hit the ground running when we arrive in Abu Dhabi," she says. "We are going to have limited time when we are at the hotel, so we really have to prepare everything when we start."

Another new challenge Blackwell expects is the noisy surroundings.

"Being in a hotel lobby, inevitably there will be people watching us as we work," she says. "Usually we work in a quiet studio.

"This could be quite restrictive, but I think it will be an interesting experience."

After graduating from the Royal College of Art in London, Blackwell began her career making art from old clothing. A trip to the Far East prompted the change in materials. While attending a spiritual ceremony, she was handed an intricately created paper flower.

"This fed into my thinking and really got me wanting to learn more about paper folding. This, combined with my love of stories and writing, meant I started working with books in 2006. Nowadays, I do all kinds of books but it's mostly fairy tales and folk tales."

First, she reads through the story. Then she chooses a favourite scene or an illustration from the book to base her model on.

Previous works include a Snow Queen cut out of a copy of Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales or Alice pieced together from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.

Blackwell has become increasingly well-known for her work in the art world. The Fairmont relationship was born when the Fairmont Dubai commissioned art for the hotel's stall at the 2011 Arabian Travel Market tourism conference in Dubai.

She went on to create replicas of some famous Fairmont-owned hotels from around the globe, including the Savoy in London and the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Saudi Arabia, based on visitors' guest books.

So when the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr's recently appointed general manager, Nils Axing, decided to launch an artist-in-residence scheme, Blackwell was an obvious choice.

"Su is an amazing artist," he says. "But not only this, she is an outgoing person and she is happy to have people there to see what she is doing. Rather than just being locked away in her studio, I think she is embracing the opportunity to meet people and share with them her knowledge and skills."

As well as providing an edifying experience for hotel visitors and guests, Axing admits there were commercial reasons for the initiative.

"It's like having a free concert in the entrance to the hotel," he says. "I hope people will want to come and watch how she works and what she's up to, to see the originality in it.

"I hope it will be a conversation piece. People will tell their friends about it and I'm hoping we see an increase in footfall and more people in our food and beverage outlets."

The initiative also syncs with the aim of Abu Dhabi's rulers to turn the emirate into an international art hub.

"This is very much in line with the image Abu Dhabi is trying to project to the world," Axing says. "So, as well as adding to the ambience and image of the hotel, we really are looking forward to contributing to the cultural growth of the city."

Su Blackwell will be at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Abu Dhabi from Sunday until May 11. The workshops will run on May 4 and May 11 from 2pm to 3.30pm. For more information visit www.fairmont.com/abu-dhabi or call 02 654 3333

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