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Thu 30 Dec 2010 12:00 AM

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A fine art

Pricey works of art, a tight deadline and strict security procedures were no match for Wicked Tents and HQ Creative at last month’s Abu Dhabi Art 2010. The companies joined forces to provide the infrastructure and interiors at the TDIC event, hosted at the capital’s Emirates Palace.

A fine art
‘Lola’ a mobile DJ booth and bar, available for hire in the UAE.

Some of the biggest names in the international art market, as
well as a strong contingent from the Middle East’s
emerging art scene, converged on the UAE last month for the second Abu Dhabi Art.
Spearheaded by the city’s TDIC (Tourism Development and Investment Company) and
ADACH (Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage), the four day, boutique-style
art fair showcased not only burgeoning local art talent, but also the expertise
of local creative and structural firms.

Dubai-based Wicked Tents won a hotly-contested infrastructure
tender to supply a structure on the grounds of Emirates Palace
to house the artists, the studios and workshops as well as a luxury majlis on the
resort’s private beach, but its involvement didn’t stop there. Wicked provided a
turnkey solution for the artists’ tent too, with managing director Alistair McDonald
explaining that the firm supplied “everything down to the paintbrushes.”

“We floored it, walled
it, provided all the AV, the generators, the lighting; everything to do with that
solution. Anything to do with a temporary venue, we’ll do.”

The majlis on the beach was a collaborative effort. “We put in
the platform, build a giant wall in front of it, built the toilets, and then HQ
Creative came in to fit out all out beautifully,” says McDonald, who adds that the
size of the project meant extending the firm’s already substantial stock.

“The structure we used is our new Arcum range, built in Germany by Los Berger.
We used a small one at Games 2010 and also for WOMAD down in Al Ain but this is
the first time we used so much of it and we actually stocked up on more to create
the size required. It’s a very high-profile event and the tent matches this.”

In total, 1,500 sq metres of Wicked’s Arcum make up the majlis,
which benefitted from the interior fit-out expertise of HQ Creative. Joanne Fleming,
client services director and head of decor for the firm, says their responsibility
began with a brief from hosts TDIC. “It was very important to TDIC to be on brand,
and to keep it very environmental, using a lot of earthy tones,” she explains.

A team of five worked to create a concept which reflected the
high-end nature of the event while maintaining a contemporary feel. Included in
this design was a slate floor, which saw 500 sq metres of slate tiles imported from
India
and laid on site. “That was obviously quite a challenge as everything else had to
wait until that went down,” says Fleming.

This was one of many logistical challenges throughout the project.
Strict security at Emirates
Palace means only two trucks
can enter the site at a time, creating a mammoth hurdle for both Wicked and HQ to
overcome. “Just on the art elements we had 36, 40 foot trucks that needed to go
in... so you can imagine, you’re staring down the nose of 80 to 100 trucks all together
needing to go in over a six day period, of which you’ve got to manage traffic flows
and that type of thing,” says McDonald.

Both he and Fleming agree though, that team work ensured the
process on trucking in – and later, trucking-out – went smoothly.

“It’s about all of us working together as a team and helping
each other out. The end result is about making sure the client is happy with it
all,” Fleming says. “We pride ourselves, as Wicked do, on, it’s not you and us,
it’s about working together and supporting each other.”

“It’s stupid stuff that can bring it all down. If one person’s
got their truck in and hasn’t organised a forklift, it delays everyone and you’ve
literally got a huge queue of truck waiting,” adds McDonald.

“No one was getting upset with each other because we all look
on in admiration of each other’s respective challenges. People were sharing fork-lifts,
crew, making calls to someone saying, my trucks early, can you give me a hand unloading
it, there was a real sense of camaraderie; it was a great vibe. Even though it’s a commercial venture, it does
feel like a cultural festival so you all feel like you’re contributing to something
more.”

He says that TDIC minimised any impact the project had on guests
at the resort by booking out an entire wing of the hotel. “They hired it for the
whole time. They put up the artists and some of the production stuff in there, filling
it out with people involved in the event. At the end of the day, you can’t have
paying guests in there if you’re bringing in 100 trucks.”

In less than a week, the majlis was erected and transformed,
with four different sized decking area’s placed between the slate flooring. “Above
the deck we had what we called ‘hanging oasis frames’, and they were fabric printed
digitally with images that were hung on framework. They were then rigged from the
ceiling,” says Fleming, adding that real grass framed each raised deck, requiring
some particularly delicate TLC. “We had a team of guys up twice a day from Dubai to water it and take
care of it because there was no soil underneath so it really needed looking after.”

Imported live moss from the UK as well as live grass at the venue’s
entrance also required a green thumb. “The grass was laid on the 31st [almost a
week before Abu Dhabi Art began]and then we had to make sure that it wasn’t watered,
so to speak, because there was no drainage and also the fact that a lot of the ladies
were wearing high heels, so we sprayed it to prevent any water-logging,” she says.

The environmental theme was continued at the bar area, behind
which an “air plant wall” was installed. “We imported 200 air plants from the Czech Republic
and they were installed on steel wires by our florists. They are plants that survive
in air, they don’t need any water or soil to survive,” explains Fleming.

McDonald says that unlike concert-type events, where those involved
are almost all from the world of production, Abu Dhabi Art saw everyone from gallery
owners, artists, production and creative agencies working in tandem. “What’s
impressive is that when you consider those timeframes, you consider the valuable
pieces of art, the diverse mix of suppliers of site, the fact that it chugs away
and works is immense. It’s staggering to think that in such a short amount of time,
you can take Emirates
Palace and completely change
it.”

Wicked’s infrastructure responsibilities extended to the power
supply on site, which is totally reliant on generators.

“We ran power for both tents independently, so you have power
source for AC and a separate power source for other elements,” he says. “It’s quite
challenging with power and with toilets, when you’ve got an event that runs all
day in a prestigious event like Emirates Palace, when dealing with things like drainage,
fuel, water – all these types of elements. Things like that, that no one every thinks about,
are very challenging. When you’ve got a fancy hotel, trying to bring in sewage tanks,
and timing in and getting access to it.”

Back inside, McDonald says that as well as working to TDIC’s
requirements, his team worked tirelessly to meet the requests by participating artists
and galleries.

“You have five artists, who’ve been building up to this event
for months, who’ve all given you specs of the types of things they’d like you to
help them with, and you can’t disappoint. They’ll ask for a scattering of shelves
here and another one will ask for a series of projectors from the ceiling and you
have to figure out how to achieve it. And you’re never quite sure they’re going
to love it until they’ve seen it,” he says. “We’d done artists impressions, rendering,
everything we could to give them as realistic idea of how things will be. And fortunately,
everyone that came along was really happy - they were blown away.”

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