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When I left my bulging IT Suitcase full of cranes with baggage check-in at the Boston Logan Airport, I wasn't sure what would happen to it. I had put a neon green strap around it and added a TSA approved lock for good measure, and I hoped that if TSA opened the case that they would be careful and read the note about the contents of the case before taking everything apart. I had faith that with all these precautions everything would be okay and that I'd see the case in one piece in Dubai.
After saying bye to my family I went through airport security and began my journey. I won't bore you with too many details of the trip itself because I could write down every detail, but there are a few things I have to mention...
- Emirates airlines is an awesome airline and if you ever have the chance to fly with them it's totally worth it!
- The dinner I had at the Prego's Restaurant at the Media Rotana Hotel in Dubai still makes my mouth water when I think about it.
- The Rosewood Hotel in Abu Dhabi is spectacular and highly recommended!!! The quality of the rooms and food, attention to detail, and personal attention from employees is top notch!
- The Sofitel in the Palm is definitely the resort to visit if you're looking for greenery and a tropical feel in the desert!
- You need at least a full day to visit the Dubai Mall because it's THAT HUGE!
- Jet lag is more real than I ever imagined!
I left home Saturday night and arrived in Dubai the next night (because of an 8 hour difference in time), and was quite relieved to see that my suitcases arrived safely. Tom, the managing director of Truelux Group in Dubai, met me at the airport - he was "looking for the lady with too many suitcases." He drove me to and dropped me off at the Media Rotana in Dubai for the night with the recommendation that I try their restaurant, Prego's. The suitcase of birds stayed safely in the trunk of his car for the night. The next morning Tom came to pick me up and drove me to Abu Dhabi.
After checking into, and leaving my bags at The Rosewood Hotel, we walked to the Galleria Mall Al Maryah Island - Tom pulling the suitcase of birds in the 110 degree weather (felt like a sauna to me). I have never in my life experienced heat like I did on this trip, and I guess it didn't help that it was summer in the UAE - luckily exposure to the heat was only in short bursts as everything is air conditioned there!
Once Tom and I got into the mall we were able to begin cooling off in the AC while he signed us in at security and got us both visitor badges. Then we made our way up to the third floor food court on the southern end of the mall. That's where the stainless steel canopy was already suspended and waiting for the origami cranes. The Oculus was quite a sight to behold, all shiny and bright, with colorful floor tiles beneath it that mirrored its shape of an eye, and two large pillars within it that appeared to hold up all the weight of the world. A part of the canopy was still coated in a protective adhesive layer, and there was residue on other parts where the layer had already been removed. Tom requested that someone remove the remainder of the adhesive layer, and clean off the residue that had been left behind as soon as possible.
Tom laid the suitcase down on the floor next to a group of tables and chairs covered in plastic, and let me know that we could use all those tables to work on. Considering it was already 12:15 pm on my first day of installation I jumped right into my work. I was pleased to find that the TSA hadn't opened the suitcase and the birds were undisturbed. My box of tools had come in my other suitcase but I had brought it in my backpack for the day. Inside that little box was my most valued possession on the trip - a wire that I had cut and bent back at home that served the specific purpose of helping me to open up the cranes.
To open the cranes you have to pull and wiggle the wings out sideways until the body sort of opens up into a three dimensional shape. Some parts of the body will always overlap and get kinked in this process with this material, so after the body is a little opened you have to use a tool to open it the rest of the way. In this case, this was accomplished by inserting the straight end of the tool into the hole at the bottom of the bird, and then poking up the parts that were stuck or kinked until the top of the body became smooth. The most challenging part at the beginning was getting the tool into the hole because the diameter of the hole was often smaller than the diameter of the wire I had used for the tool. Soon I came up with a technique where I'd pull on the neck while pushing down against the tail side of the crane to enlarge the hole while simultaneously inserting the tool.
Once I got the hang of it I timed myself to see that it was taking about 6 minutes to open up each line of birds. At that rate it would take me another 22 hours of just opening birds to get it all done in time - and that was more hours that I had on site for assembly. Tom and I discussed the progress and he began helping me open up the birds. He did the initial step of pulling on the wings to open the bodies which saved me about 2 minutes a strand. While we sat at the tables opening birds and laying the lines out on the tables, a team of 4 men were hanging the lines from the steel canopy.
Alex was in charge of the team, as well as a lot of other stuff that was getting installed at the mall - there were two men on the ground and two up on the scaffolding. The two on the ground would collect the lines of opened birds and take them to the guys on the scaffolding. One scaffolding guy would attach the line to the canopy while the other either held the next line or adjusted the previously attached line. Truthfully I didn't see exactly how they did it because I was concentrating on opening birds the whole time.
Every time the group of four caught up with my progress of opening birds they would go back to peeling off the adhesive layer and cleaning the canopy. By the time 5pm hit and the workers left for the day we had nearly 1/2 of the inner layer strung up. Tom and I left the mall soon after that as well, and he helped me take the suitcase and a couple of empty boxes back to the hotel, so I could open up more birds in my room. With only two more days of installation I was feeling the pressure to get as much done off-site as possible.
Back at the Rosewood, I had some time to really focus on the process of opening up the cranes - this extra focused practice helped me learn some tricks to speed things up. That first evening I got through about 18 lines of birds, which helped me get a little ahead of the guys once I got to the mall in the morning. Bren, Truelux's on site director, met me at the hotel and helped me get the suitcase and boxes back to the mall, and past security.
On the second day after lunch, Marcus and Sean from the Galleria Mall PR department stopped by. Sean was there to do an on-camera interview of me about my work, and my involvement in the project. He let me know the questions ahead of time so I'd have some idea of what to respond when the camera was rolling. His camera crew also took some photos of me working and opening up some birds. They said the interview would air on their social media, and be transcribed for the mall's newsletter too. All very exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. I'll share those on my site as soon as I get them. This interview took some time away from my bird opening job, but I was still doing pretty good with timing by 5 pm when everyone left.
By the end of the second day the guys had just started the second layer of cranes, and I was anxious to get a lot of lines opened up at the hotel. This time I left the suitcase at the mall, but very ambitiously took 50 lines of birds with me in the boxes - Bren helped me carry them back to the hotel. I managed to get a little over 30 of them opened before falling asleep, and that night I slept a full 6 hours straight!
On the third and final day of assembly I felt good about where we were in the process, and I had gotten my timing down to 4 minutes a line without any assistance. Tom did show up to help open cranes again and make sure everything went well on the last day. The banquettes between us and the Oculus had be turned up onto their sides obstructing our view so we couldn't watch the progress of the lines going up on Wednesday. With one line to go, Tom called me over to see which line we should add as the final one.
Despite all my planning so that no two birds of the same color would end up side by side, the pegs the cranes hung from didn't line up the same as they had in the rendering, and we ended up with a few extra cranes and some color overlap anyhow. When Tom called me over to see which line should be the final one I got to see the Oculus fixture for the first time that day. After weaving through the wall of banquettes I was able to see it, and I was blown away - it was so beautiful that I forgot to breathe for a moment, and I had to walk around it and take it in before I could speak.
Never in my life could I have imagined how amazing it would look - and even though it isn't a "mobile," the cranes still move and look so alive as you walk around them. The sunlight bouncing off the distant walls and shining through the windows filters trough the cranes beautifully, and as you walk, the colors overlap and dance together, creating new colors and emotions. It is magical to see - and no amount of photos or videos can ever compare to seeing it in person.
In the end the final line did have to be different from what I had originally planned, so I skipped a line and added the next one on the plan instead. The guys hung up the final line, and then they all went up to the fourth floor to help with pillar and lighting installation in the seating area. I took this opportunity to take pictures and make a couple of videos of the Oculus fixture before I left the mall for the last time.
The next day (Thursday) the two guys on the scaffolding had to remove all the little papers that were labeling the locations of each line, tuck in the loose string at the bottom of each line, and glue all the beads into their final positions. While the fixture was being finalized, I was at the Rosewood Hotel saying goodbye and thank you to the staff at the breakfast lounge and encouraging them to go check out the Oculus across the street once the mall opened. At noon, Nik, the Project Manager at Truelux picked me up at the Rosewood and drove me to their office in Dubai. There I got to meet the rest of their group and give each one of them a mini thank you crane, just like the ones on the Oculus, but much, much smaller.
I also got to meet Tom's wife and their little boy - she took me to the Dubai Mall for a couple of hours before dropping me off at the Sofitel on the Palm. That night I met Tom, Nik, Bren, and all the rest of the Truelux group for dinner at the Wavehouse in the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm, where I got to say bye to everyone and give Tom, Nik, and Bren thank you notes. My flight home was early the next morning, and I got to see the sun rising majestically between the buildings of Dubai on my way to the airport.
It was a most wonderful experience, and I am beyond grateful to the Truelux Group for giving me this opportunity to have my art featured in such a special way, so that hundreds of thousands, eventually even millions of people can see and admire it for years to come. Just in the time that I was there working at the mall, so many people stopped to look at the Oculus and take pictures and videos, and now that the mall is open, it will always be there to fill people with wonder and amazement. I met so many amazing people on this trip - most knew me as "The Bird Lady" from the videos I had emailed to Tom and Nik of me folding and packing cranes. It was also really neat to put faces to the names that I had been emailing back and forth with for weeks.
Tom and Nik said they'd make sure that all future clients would agree to including some form of origami in their project so I could go back and work with them in Dubai again. I do hope to return someday, but even if I never do, I will always be grateful for this experience and all of their kindness during my time there.
If you missed the post about the Creative Process Behind the Oculus, make sure to check it out here! I will also be sharing some more videos and professional photos in the near future, so be sure to check back for updates!