Rolf Sachs on Leaden, 2008, a cast blackened lead chair with a hole melted through its seat and, top right, ‘On a Pulse — Carbonised’, created for Abu Dhabi Art Image Credit: ©Jonathan Root

Glass, metal, resin, felt and silver all find a place in the remarkable conceptual art that Rolf Sachs specialises in. An acclaimed artist, Sachs, who stepped away from a career of investment banking, has designed hundreds of furniture-based creations since the early 1990s.

Working with well-established craftspeople, his pieces always cause visitors to connect with the artwork emotionally and prompt them to consider the message within it.

A prime example is Alone In a Crowd (2010), which includes 511 miniature figurines in various modes of action, symbolising how, despite interacting with each other publicly, we are still inevitably alone in society.

Sachs, a member of the Board of Trustees for the London Design Museum, the Tate Modern International Council and a member of the Sotheby's International Advisory Board, spoke to Weekend Review about his specially commissioned piece for Abu Dhabi Art, which is being displayed by the Leila Heller gallery that represents him. The artist also narrates his observations and experiences travelling in the region and what he hopes his family really thinks about his work.



How do you feel about participating in Abu Dhabi Art? Why was the fair chosen as the first venue in the region where your works will be exhibited?

I am very excited that my work will be featured in Abu Dhabi Art. It seems that the fair has become a fantastic venue in the Middle East for artists and galleries to showcase their works. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the event as I had other commitments at the time.


What was the inspiration for ‘On a Pulse — Carbonised'? Did you work with experts to create it? And were there any challenges, design-wise or in acquiring the materials for it?

I always try to find a way to merge emotion with functionality in all my works, and On a Pulse was inspired by the fact that oil is the heartbeat of the region. It is a table whose top is filled with carbonised oil that ripples as a result of a "mechanical heartbeat". In addition to oil, I used veneered oak, steel, glass, neon and electronics. As with all my works, I approached various experts to ensure that everything came together smoothly throughout the creation process.


Was the piece created especially for Abu Dhabi Art? If yes, will it remain in Abu Dhabi after the fair?

It was created for this fair and is actually for sale through the gallery representing me, the Leila Heller Gallery.


Have you created or exhibited other pieces for the fair?

I haven't created anything else for Abu Dhabi Art as I was specially commissioned to create On a Pulse — Carbonised.


In addition to the experts you work with, do any members of your family or friends help out in any way or give you ideas or feedback at any stage for your works?

Oh, my wife, Mariam, is a constant source of feedback on my works, both positive and negative. And so are my children, Phillip, 25, Fredrik, 23, and Roya, 20, even though they are scattered around the world right now. But overall, they like what I create. I hope.


Have you ever travelled to the region before? If yes, how have your experiences been?

I have travelled to Iran — which is where my wife is from — Dubai and Oman. I also visited Lebanon last summer. I have always been fascinated with the region, especially the desert. And I see myself coming here to visit and relax. Also, there are certain things about the region that inspire me, such as the culture of shadow. A lot of the architectural designs here emphasise shadows by maximising shade, and that play on light and shadow is something I would like to experiment with.


Is there another country in the Middle East you would like to visit in particular?

I haven't really thought about it, but I would probably love to visit Iran again, as I haven't been there for many years. Also, of course, I would like to visit Abu Dhabi, especially once the museums are completed on Saadiyat Island.

At the moment I am experimenting with clay and there are several locations in the region that are a good source of this material. Hopefully one day I will be able to visit them properly and see how I can acquire it for my studio, as it is a very versatile material.


What are your thoughts on the current events taking place in the region? How do you think they may affect the art sector, whether in the Middle East or in the international arena?

I believe the Arab Spring will benefit the region in the long run. But people must be patient, as it will take time, even for economic growth. To ensure that they continue moving forward, they must be educated about what democracy is really about and what should be done to ensure there are no extreme movements in either direction. As for how it will affect the art sector, it is usually during times such as this that art flourishes, since such works provide an effective way to spread a message.


Have you created any pieces for your home?

I haven't created anything specifically for my home, but a lot of my creations find their way there. However, I don't like to think of the pieces that have been sold, as each piece I create is like a child to me, and I almost feel sad when it is sold.