Emirati artist Shaikha Al Mazrou’s sculptural work Red Stack, part of Frieze Sculpture 2022 at Regent's Park in London, is a superb illusion of dichotomies.
Cushions have been enlarged and magnified, their form and volume studied and examined. Piled as a stack, they appear soft and hard at the same time.
The stack is firmly grounded but the cushions look as though they are moments away from sliding off each other.
Represented by Lawrie Shabibi gallery in Alserkal Avenue, Al Mazrou is one of 19 international artists who are showing work as part of this year's Frieze Sculpture.
Now in its tenth consecutive year, the event is running until November 13, alongside Frieze London and Frieze Masters, which are both taking place from October 12 to 16.
This gives ample exposure to Red Stack as the public are free to examine and interact with the sculpture, an element that Al Mazrou not only considers in her practice but one she welcomes.
“The difference about setting a public sculpture in a public realm is that your audience are eclectic, diverse, so you have to understand the public language as well,” she says.
“I'm quite interested in having the viewer as an active participant and not necessarily a passive one.”
Al Mazrou’s largest public sculpture to date, Red Stack is made from fibreglass and resin on a polystyrene core, over steel armature.
The materials used have been extended to their limits to imitate the gentle creases and soft, voluminous terrain of an everyday, banal object.
A bold red flattens the stack while also emphasising its shape and fragility of the suggested movement of the cushions.
The colour further highlights the silhouette and physicality of the sculpture set against the greenery of Regent's Park.
Playful, charming and a little unsettling, Red Stack is a sculpture of materiality and assumptions where its minimalist aesthetic and accessible subject matter is wonderfully presented to the general public.
“I’m quite fortunate to have this opportunity to display my work at Frieze at the Regent's Park in London,” Al Mazrou tells The National.
“I've allowed my work to take its toll here. I wanted to experience it in a public realm on a large scale.
"I've used very similar techniques [before], but when working on a public sculpture, you have to consider a lot of factors.”
Last year, Al Mazrou presented another large-scale public sculpture, called The Plinth, which was commissioned under the Expo 2020 Dubai Public Art Programme. It will remain on site as part of Expo City Dubai.
The Plinth presents a similar dual existence — soft and hard, stationary and moving — that is explored through the physical properties of the materials.
With Red Stack, she takes the idea of tension and balance and examines it more deeply through the use of material. but also through colour and our own conventions of the dull.
The minimal, unadorned, almost matter-of-fact subject matter and presentation of Red Stack gives the impression that the process of creating it would have been equally seamless. Al Mazrou says that it is far from it.
Red Stack, like so much of Al Mazrou’s sculptural work, explores themes around materiality in sculpture. Harsh industrial materials are moulded, their qualities challenged while still maintaining superior rule.
“There's a point in my practice where I have to obey the material,” she says. “It asks me to stop exhausting it more than it is exhausted, especially when working with rigid materials and industrial material.”
For a piece such as Red Stack to work as well as it does, the material needs to be understood at an almost intimate level.
Al Mazrou spent a lot of time researching and understanding the possibility of every single medium she uses in her practice, making decisions on how the process and nature of the material — whether resin, metal, casting, or clay — can affect the final form of the sculpture that informs how it is perceived by the public.
“I definitely plan things but I also allow room for accidents and challenges to take place,” she says.
“Understanding the logistics that aren’t usually perceived, understanding how it has to be stable, the fragility of the material, does this material work for public sculpture?
"You have to manoeuvre your way to find the right medium for a public setting. These are some of the challenges.
"When in a white cube space, it's a whole different structure.”
Frieze Sculpture 2022 is on until November 13 in Regent's Park, London
Scroll through the gallery below to see Abu Dhabi's public sculptures