x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The day I saved a Picasso and other horror stories

What possible motivation could anybody have to vandalise art that provides visual respite in an otherwise purely functional space? It baffles me.

Changi Airport Terminal 1, Singapore, November 2. A woman in a white dress saunters over to the Kinetic Rain installation. Raindrops dance up and down in sequence, creating beautiful patterns. It’s a performance not unlike that of our own dancing fountain at The Dubai Mall. Mesmerising, captivating and unreal in its beauty.

Designed by the German company Art+Com and installed at the Changi departure terminal in July 2012, it consists of 1,216 motorised, computer-operated aluminium “raindrops” attached to the ceiling by wire. A software programme controls the installation by moving the droplets up and down, creating interesting shapes. It is the world’s largest kinetic sculpture.

Just as hundreds of shoppers gather outside The Dubai Mall to watch dancing fountains, travellers passing through Changi stop to marvel at the dancing raindrops. The woman in white was one of them.

Unlike the rest of her fellow travellers, though, she didn’t seem content with watching from a distance. She clambered over the metal barriers and jabbed around wildly, trying to grab at the raindrops. After several attempts, she managed to yank one free and calmly made her way back.

Minutes later, she was apprehended by security and arrested, but not before doing some serious damage to the sculpture, including tangling the wires up and rendering the installation inoperable.

Why? What possible motivation could anybody have to vandalise art that provides visual respite in an otherwise purely functional space? It baffles me.

It also takes me back to an incident a few years ago at a VIP cocktail party at a leading art gallery. On show were some priceless pieces of art. There I was, in front of a multimillion-dirham Picasso. It was inches from me, unprotected by a casing of any sort. It made me a little nervous. What if somebody bumped into it? People accidentally jab me in the elbow with their cigarettes all the time. What if it were this painting instead? I was still battling the waves of protectiveness that washed over me, when someone came up behind me and whispered: “Touch it.”

I turned around to face a respectable-looking man.

“Go on, touch it. Before anyone else comes.”

I looked around – there was no one else in our corner. I, or anyone, could very easily have touched the Picasso. Or, it crossed my mind then, licked it without getting caught. It was an alarming thought.

“Can you imagine touching a Picasso?” the man egged me on.

“No, I can’t,” I shouted at him.

Why does being presented with beauty have to be an opportunity to ruin it? Why can’t it just be enjoyed from a distance? My outburst threw the man off for an instant but then his eyes flickered with a “If you don’t do it, I will” message. I planted myself in front of the artwork until some more people wandered up to us.

I guess I managed to save the Picasso from one weirdo for one day. I’m just sad that no one was able to do the same for Kinetic Rain.

The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi fan living in Dubai