Coral Alchemy (Acropora Grove)

Shezad Dawood
H 3.86m x L3.5m x W5.4m
Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi
15 November 2023 - 30 January 2024

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Shezad Dawood, Coral Alchemy (Acropora Grove), Manar, Abu Dhabi, 2023. © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

Factum Arte recently collaborated with Shezad Dawood to create and install his latest sculpture Coral Alchemy (Acropora Grove). As part of Manar Abu Dhabi, a Public Art initiative showcasing an exhibition of new commissions and site-specific light sculptures, projections, and immersive artworks by local and international artists, Shezad Dawood was commissioned to create Coral Alchemy (Acropora Grove). for Abu Dhabi's Corniche Road.

His work was unveiled on the 15th of November 2023 and is on show until 30th January 2024.

The artist drew inspiration from how climate change is impacting coral species endemic to the region in conversation with local scientists. Coral Alchemy (Acropora Grove) derives its name from the Acropora Downingi coral, characterised by large colonies resembling staggered and irregular tables. The branches of this coral variety strongly converge at the colony's centre, curving slightly upwards at the edges. As a crucial reef-building coral, the Acropora species play a vital role in shaping underwater ecosystems.

However, this species has faced increasing threats to its survival in recent decades, primarily attributed to the impacts of climate change. The rise in sea temperatures has led to coral bleaching and diseases, posing significant threats to Acropora colonies and other coral species in the Arabian Gulf. The decline of Acropora populations underscores the urgent need for conservation efforts and climate change mitigation to preserve the diversity and health of coral reef ecosystems.

The project's initial phase involved close collaboration between the artist and Factum Arte’s in-house 3D modeller, Irene Gaumé. The first experimental process employed Houdini, a procedural modelling software, to simulate the natural growth of coral according to an innovative AI pathway. Textures were then meticulously adjusted during the 3D modelling process. The final sculptural form is therefore an interface between the artist’s hand and machine learning, in turn referring to the continuum of geometry between the natural world and technology.

Once the 3D model of the coral was finalised and approved by the artist, Factum 3D printed the sculpture using a composite sand print made of silica sand and epoxy resin as the adhesive, binding the resin to the powdered material and building up the 3D design layer by layer.

The sculpture comprises 28 separate parts, supported by a stainless-steel structure designed by Factum Arte’s engineering team to ensure structural integrity, reinforcing each of the individual elements.

3D printed tests © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

A number of all the elements that make up the final sculpture painted in white in Factum’s workshop © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

Starting the assembly process © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

Jacinto de Manuel fixing the pieces to the base, with the stainless steel structures inside for support © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

Factum’s team joining the elements of the coral together © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

Factum’s team joining the elements of the coral together © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

The assembled Coral Alchemy (Acropora Grove) before painting © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

Building on a prior innovative collaboration with Shezad for Desert X Alula in 2022, known as Coral Alchemy I (Dipastrea Speciosa) and II (Porites Columnaris), the sculpture was coated with orange thermochromic paint at the base, mimicking a coloration naturally found in Acropora corals. This specialised paint becomes transparent when exposed to heat (usually between 26º and 31º), revealing the white base underneath.

Jordi Garcia at work painting in thermocromic paint © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

Details of the painted sculpture © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

Detail of the painted sculpture © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte

The sculpture, therefore, undergoes a transformative journey, commencing each morning in Abu Dhabi with vibrant orange hues and white tips, and evolving into a completely white coral by midday. This dynamic metamorphosis parallels the accelerated process of coral bleaching, a process leading to coral die-offs, which typically manifest as an expanse of lifeless white formations, starkly contrasting the vibrant rainbow hues of healthy coral.

The four-metre oversized nature of the sculpture and the vivid interplay of colours and textures serve as a poignant reminder of these issues, symbolising the often-unseen struggle of corals beneath the ocean's surface. This artistic representation urges us to address the widespread challenges facing the marine ecosystem, emphasising the urgency to respond to the environmental challenges threatening these vital underwater communities, reversing their damage before they go brown.

Coral Alchemy (Acropora Grove) was assembled on Corniche Road in Abu Dhabi, culminating in a stunning installation.

Co-curated by Reem Fadda, Director of Abu Dhabi Culture Programming and Cultural Foundation, and Artistic Director of Public Art Abu Dhabi and Alia Zaal Lootah, Curator Public Art.

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