x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Abu Dhabi residents baffled but intrigued by RedBall Project

Artist Kurt Perschke says the main point of his travelling installation art project is to engage the public.

Kurt Perschke's RedBall Project on display above Fanr Restaurant at Abu Dhabi Art on Thursday. Andrew Henderson / The National
Kurt Perschke's RedBall Project on display above Fanr Restaurant at Abu Dhabi Art on Thursday. Andrew Henderson / The National

ABU DHABI // Noor Nazze did not know what to make of the shiny red ball wedged between the giant rails of Sheikh Zayed Bridge this week.

The taxi driver from Afghanistan quickly dismissed the 4.3-metre art installation as a "piece of plastic".

When he heard the ball had travelled to cities including Taipei, Barcelona, Toronto and Sydney, Mr Nazze shook his head.

"Well, if it's travelling the world, at least he'd better take it to Afghanistan," he said.

The US designer of the RedBall Project, Kurt Perschke, clapped his hands in delight when he heard of the taxi driver's reaction.

"This is what I'm talking about," said Mr Perschke. "That, to me, is really exciting because it's a sense of being invited - of wanting to join. If you're working with the public it really shouldn't just be about putting your thing outside. Ultimately, it's about engaging the public.

"People often think the project is about the ball but actually the ball is charismatic and magnetic and playful and it brings you in, it invites you in.

The RedBall Project's appearance here is part of an continuing public art strategy by the Abu Dhabi Government. Abeer Al Mutawa, the director of communications at the municipality, saw a picture of RedBall while flipping through an art book and decided it would work well here.

The project is an official part of National Day celebrations and will be seen around town until December 2.

"There's a special theme for National Day this year - the harmony of life in the UAE - and that's what I liked about this; it touches upon those things," said Ms Al Mutawa. "It opens the door to conversation."

Isabella Hughes, a curator and Dubai editor of ArtAsiaPacific, praised the "nomadic quality" of RedBall and its ability to take the site into context.

"I hope this will inspire artists here to have more site-specific pieces," said Ms Hughes. "In the UAE you bring people from all over the world together and I think it's beautiful that this RedBall project it kind of just attests to this.

"Art should be for everyone. The accessibility factor is key."

Mr Perschke visited the capital in July 2010 and September 2011 to choose sites in the city, the Western Region and Al Ain, where the ball will tour next week. The RedBall Project will move to a new location each day during its Abu Dhabi visit. Today, it will be at the corniche.

"What I try to do in every city is to have the piece move between a familiar landmark and something that is unexpected or maybe just local," said Mr Perschke.

The ball, made of two layers of architectural PVC, is shipped in a red crate and normally takes about an hour to be inflated and installed.

A test run outside the municipality was a simple procedure, but placing the 135-kg ball on Sheikh Zayed Bridge was probably one of the most daring escapades in RedBall crew history.

The RedBall Project was born when Mr Perschke was offered a public art commission in St Louis, Missouri, and asked to choose between three locations: a lush park, a glitzy mall, and a derelict underpass.

"The underpass was like the one they give you because nobody cares about it. But when I kept looking at the sights, it was the one I kept coming to and I decided that what I needed to do is look at why," said Mr Perschke.

Abu Dhabi residents have a few weeks to see the ball before it leaves for Perth, Australia, and then tours England for the London 2010 Olympics.

Nadia Al Ghaferi and Mariam Al Junaibi, two young Emirati women visiting the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, had their own interpretations.

"Why is it red?" asked Ms Al Ghaferi. "I mean, it's a dangerous colour."

"It's warm," says Ms Al Junaibi.

"Red ... it's love, isn't it?" conceded Ms Al Ghaferi.

Qai Sar Ali, 27, an interior designer from Pakistan, drew his own conclusions, too.

"The theme is a peace ball?" he asked. "This must be the theme of every activity that connects people."