Thursday, 21 November 2013

Chatting Public Art, Hong Kong

The Open Door

The government commissioned a series of artworks in the newly built government HQ and the Legislative Council at Admiralty. The works below represented the result of an open competition held in 2010.

Tai, Victor Sheung-shing 戴尚誠, Key to the City 城市鑰匙
Painted stainless steel

The hyped-up key with three bittings is analogous to the artist’s blessing of the executive, legislative and judiciary orders in the city. The concept runs in parallel with the “arched door” configuration of the architecture. With well intentions, the message has positivism firmly anchored. Yet the play with analogy is  a risky pursuit; and it may easily lead to misreading – from the slapdash arrangement of the key, or parodies out fun (say “a lost key” to start with).

Ho, Steven Chun-wai 何俊宏, Kung, Alvin Yick-ho 龔翊豪 and 
Wong, Edmund Chak-yuen 黄澤源, Soundscape 聲嶽
Stainless steel and terrazzo

The silhouette of Hong Kong mountains integrated with the introductory melody of the national anthem makes a flesh approach. The hitting of the idiophones attached to the steel bars requires extraordinary physical agility to relate the tonal measures to the undulating skyline, but the gesture to serenade the semi-autocratic regime no doubt is understood.

Artist and attribution details unknown.

At the centre of the sculpture walk is an unnamed spiral work (title plate probably not ready) in the shape of a Lego-like structure. The centrifugal display of colourful boxes filled with pebbles makes open interpretations. This accidentally untitled work, despite its populist appearance, does not have much visual focus to connect with the spectator.

 One particular issue to address is the weathering property of the work. The extensive horizontal surfaces would behave as dust collectors that gather unbearable stains. On top of this, the timber boxes (indeed it is what they are made of!) are hardly durable and would be a lagging pain on maintenance in future.

Mok, Yat-sen 莫一新 and Man, Fung-Yi 文鳳儀, Scent of Spring 
迷蝶香, Stainless steel, brass and bronze.

The sculpture, in its style of representation and bandwagon concern on the subject of sustainable environment, has a depth only compatible to a pre-kindergarten pop-up book.

Zoie So 蘇慧怡, Phoebe So 蘇慧婷 and Ryan So 蘇智謙
Photosynthesis in Motion 葉一片.光合動態, Coated stainless steel

Another missable work that challenges the common sense of the viewers is this steel fabrication, which is loaded with an ‘added value’ of a reclining divan. But upon close inspection, its skewed curvatures along both axes present a blatant health hazard. Not intended with sarcasm, the piece begs a warning sign addressing orthopaedic risks for impulsive users.

Invisible answer to the open call

The step-up platform where the staff posts are is supposedly accompanied by an artwork, which is chosen from this open competition.  The procedure of short-listing had been completed in 2011 with three pieces duly selected and shown in public. Among them, advocacy on democratic transparency was the common agenda. But no winner was ever announced.

A common theory suggests, in view of the politically charged locality, the organizers decided to eliminate any potential offence to the government by ditching this award altogether. Hence, it might make an alternative point of view to say that the piece does exist in a higher form of existence.

Old School at Kowloon Park

Van, Lau 文樓 (1933 -), “Please” , 1989
The bronze work, in rough cast and finish, 
fits in well among the Banyan trees. 

For someone inclined to physical assertions, 
the title might as well be “Bang”.

Van is the grand duke among local sculptors who spends much of his career to bring in the oriental elements in modernity. The gripping hands induce strong visual impacts from distance viewing and the gesture of which makes open associations depending on the cultural backgrounds of prospective viewers.

The title of “Please” for most is enigmatic, and yes something is lost in the translation. For the bilingual readers, it is actually a gesture of greeting confirmed in the Chinese title and only too appropriate for the shop-lined boulevard.  

Cheung, Yee 張義 (1936 -), Crab 將軍, 1984, 
Assembled bronze works

The gentleman who picks this location for Tai Chi exercise
 must detect certain positive energy beyond me.

The search of a Chinese tenet has always been a constant preoccupation by local artists. The hybrid-looking creature was one of the subjects from which inspiration and meaning were sought by the sculptor. Those were the times in the 1980s that cosmic abstraction was fashionable and symbolic of serious thinking. Cheung’s oeuvre embedded with obscure signifiers sometimes still ignites a spark on occasions like the above.

Eduardo Paolozzi 愛德華多.鮑洛齊 (1924-2005), 
Concept of Newton 牛頓的構思, date unknown, Cast Bronze

The tree planted to the left beats a dead horse.

The fame of Paolozzi had surely prompted the organizers of the sculpture garden to switch to a mindset of adulation. The response was a colonnaded seating space, slightly claustrophobic in space and hoarded away from everything in sight. However the VIP treatment proves to be detrimental in attracting the mass public and most visitors simply don’t know it exists at all. Loathing is the mainstay in locus.

This life-sized bronze actually gives hints to graphic arts and geometry due to the misleading presence of “platonic shapes” of triangle, square and circle.

‘Newton’ after William Blake, 1995 for the British Library
 in London.(photoNeo Reynolds@Flickr)
The gigantic scale and context of which seem to be 
more befitting of this work by Paolazzo.

Business Art

David Williams-Ellis (1959 - ), The Watcher, 2000

The primitive percher makes pleasant contrast against the sophisticated surrounding. The canonical use of bronze is just as powerful as any new medium.  The Watcher is among the rare subversive works one can find in any business premises in any city, and the tolerance displayed is worth a compliment to the patron – the Swire Group.  Its unusual demeanour and hawk eyes deserve a pause for thought from on-lookers.

Kevin Fung 馮力仁 (1964 -), The Real Me - Hey Miss, 2009

Another approach on the reflection of a workaday existence, Fung’s melodramatic agenda, split among groups of narratives, is more pragmatic than inquisitive. Made with timber and painted sensibly in this grouping, there is only a peeking head to break the mould. Otherwise all is normal including the passers-by. Along with the figurines, self-assurance is the momentum for people to walk a life.

Anne Ross, The Meeting, 2008

Attractive patina considered, canine observation is not Sundial's vocation.  This open metaphor of the human condition can accidentally yield to forbidden imaginations between man and animal.

Bahk, Seon Ghi 朴善基 (1966 - ), Organic Float, 2011, 
Charcoal and nylon threads

The suspended charcoals, visually arresting because of its size and colour, however is mishandled in its setting.  The physical detachment, due to height, has whittled down much interest at first glance. Without proper lighting to address the suspension effect and the material, the installation is seriously compromised. (Note: the charcoal flowerpots are lit only at evenings when pedestrian traffic is far less than those at daytime.)

(Above four works located at Taikoo and Quarry Bay)

Lighting decision makes a huge different – “An Aggregate” 
by Bahk from Art Stage Singapore, 2011

Horse Play

Freeman Lau 劉小康, Miracle Horse 幻彩神驅, 2008, Painted Steel

Attributed to the 2008 Olympic equestrian game held in the city, the subject of horse is repeated thrice within a stone throw away.  At here, the visual mottos of the distorted figure, painted skin and exaggerated size stack up little to a fashion-conscious attempt. The metal barriers thrown in haphazardly whilst the photographs were taken perhaps give this tamed horse a magic touch it yearns for.

Joaquin G Palencia 喬凱尼.帕蘭斯亞, Red Horse 赤驅
2008, Painted Steel

A visually torturous work that does not inspire much even after the title is revealed.  The installation was first conceived partly indoor, partly outdoor and to be separated by the glass of a shopping mall.  The idea not materialized was said to be related to the fire codes. Anyway a horse that lies on the ground is hardly good omen. The work built-in with seating, is rightly voted to be unpopular with the public as it is left idling most of the time.

Mimmo Paladino 米莫.巴拉第諾 (1948 -), Zenth
date unknown, Bronze and aluminum.
Like architect, a sculptor would be rewarded by 
studying his site prior to inception.

Figurative than the two horses above, the noble beast has been the recurring theme of the artist of multi-media interests.  It is also the most responsive to context where the sculpture is standing on platform at one angle and yet appears among trees from a roof terrace nearby.  Within a short interval of time, the metalwork looks urbane then and surreal now.  This is true magic an audience rarely savours and it is a pleasure of any re-visit.

View of Zenith from the roof terrace which is accessible for all. The live bird perching at the head of the horse incidentally is not part of the sculpture.

Zaha Hadid 扎哈.哈廸 (1950-), Wirl , Fibre-glass

“Designed to convey the intensity of a hyper-acceleratory force”, explains Hadid, the white fibre-glass is everything but mobility. The plastic configuration is wisely ambiguous: it looks unearthly, cyber-technic but also recalls organically like the semi-circular canals of the ears in you and me.  During the few minutes of observation, it seemed to be friendly amongst children - that is an intended success.

Hadid’s architecture seems to be getting bigger in size as her fame grows, so as the controversies (especially in consideration of context). Her sculpture, devoid of much contention unlike her buildings, might provide an angle of self-reflection.

(Above four works located at City Art Square, Shatin)

Art in Art

Lee, Shu-fan, Mok, Yuk-kwan Faye, Yiu, Fung Leo, Overlap, 
2003-04. Stainless steel, glass and aluminum.

The view at daytime from the Cultural Centre 
towards The Peninsula Hotel.

The reflective surfaces, computer-programmed LED and varying heights of the columns explore the interactions of individuals in an urban environs. The changing colours and tinted mirrors make interesting reading from different perspectives. Pedestrians are encouraged to walk between the columns, but many of them are so tightly spaced that the experience is left to the inquisitive few.

It is noteworthy to observe the quiet existence of the columns in the daytime that tend to escape from public notice. Just like lamp fixtures, only the outstanding few can speak to the audience when the lights are off.

Sim Chan 陳閃, SimKites, 2013, 
Paper, bamboo, string and acrylic

Understandably low-budgeted due to minimum funding from the Hong Kong Arts Centre that houses it, Sim’s kites communicate primarily to a young audience on the fading memories in this city of change. The installation is light and airy though a lack of kinetic movement leaves something to be desired.

 It appropriately addresses the vista of looking above as the only means of escaping the concrete cluster reality of Hong Kong. Or to be precise, almost.

 One point to note is the absence of a title in the local language that does not equal his commitment to local issues.

Sexuality and Determinism 

Eva Drewett, Growing Shell 生命之貝, 1989, Cast bronze 
(front); and Yung, Wai-mun Zoe 容慧敏, Figure 造像, Marble (back)

There are natural attributes of femininity in both works located at Kowloon Park. Whether on the female figure or association with birth, they are subdued as much as graceful, conservative yet timeless.

Leung, Kui-ting 梁巨廷, Ultimate Union 天人合一, 1992, 
Bronze and granite

Leung’s work, taking away the hard edges, is more direct on the theme of sexuality. More explicit than the title suggests, two entities are caught in the act of copulation. Though angular in shape, the two have a soft aura that connects with the fresh and blood of individuals, perhaps due to their glow and the surrounding lush vegetation. The work, sophisticatedly composed and made at the time, has an appeal of innocence like sex itself with no string attached.

Eddie Lui 呂豐雅 (1949 -), Luscious Spring, 
Flourishing Summer, Harvesting Autumn, Solidarity Winter
春茂.夏盛.秋收.冬藏, Ceramic

Arguably the most sexually charged works in the city, the references to the female body is intently discernible.  The breasts intertwine with the archetypal teapots and the vagina reveals itself as the budding plant. They are open expressions with little for imagination, I mean real imagination not libido.

The objectification of the female body, lined up like trophies, might instigate uproar in other cities, though not Hong Kong. Critique on his deterministic connection between bodily parts and seasons is peripheral in comparison.

Home comfort among wonders.

This photo perhaps could allay any accusation that Lui is a chauvinist – his studio is a larger-than-life temple of phalluses. What a waste they are not shown in the open along with the other specimens at the Academy of Performance Arts!

Campus Agendas

Jens Galschiot (1954 -), Pillar of Shame 國殤之柱
1996, painted concrete

The sculpture in floodlight.

Unveiled at the Victoria Park in 1997, it was moved from various sojourns before settled in the University of Hong Kong in 1998.  The shaft, wrapped up of figures, can be attributed to the Nordic expression of humanity through postures. The original fair concrete had been painted to follow the human rights organization – The Orange Colour set up by Galschiot himself.

In remembrance of the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, the work has been elevated to the status of monument. Among the many plaques that are mounted at the base, “The old cannot kill the young” is probably the most riveting statement to remember.

Van, Lau 文樓 (1933 -), The Static Leaves 風和氣逸, 2010, 
Colour coated stainless steel

The glistering dash of leaves is another attempt by Van in his long quest of regional identity. Like most of his works, there are insertions of formal meaning on his subjects represented. The bamboo leaves carry the well-wishes for the young guns, who study art related subjects in the campus. Same case as the gripping hands, the translation here has swayed the wrong direction.

The Baptist University at which the work is located requires extra efforts to demonstrate their commitment on arts. The piece is still a loner since the sculpture garden was launched in 2010. Besides, nowhere is any attribution for the work to be found. This is hardly a role-model to follow for the visual arts and media departments nearby.

China Winds

Zhan Wang 展望, Artificial Rock No.121 假山石121
2007, Stainless steel

A cultural chasm may be hard to bridge; and the statement from Saatchi Gallery’s website is perplexing to say the least: ‘In Chinese custom, rocks and water are the two most important five elements, and through the sculpture’s reflective surface, Zhan combines both in a spiritual emblem, merging their associative connotations of stability, prosperity and wealth.’ Whooh!

A no-nonsense clarification attempted is as follows: Artificial rocks (better translated as Scholar Rocks personally) are particular rock types that have the visual similitude with forms of nature, be it a mountain, cave, or gorge. They are displayed at gardens, courtyards or even at studies for viewer’s mental connection with mother earth.

Sadly this particular one does not possess any of the above characteristics. Even to the trained eyes, this steel rock is anything but a bemusing lump with little appeal. I have seen better variations of Zhang’s steel rocks from which the intent of iconoclasm is better transcribed. Having said that, there is nothing new or more powerful than what Jeff Koons had done years ago.

Zhang Huan 張洹, Long Island Buddha 長島佛,
 2011, Copper and steel

Imagine a deformed statue of Jesus in a Christian city or a twisted star and crescent in an Islamic community, there could well be roaring outcries. Yet one has to admire certain open-mindedness if not insolence in this city of ours. There has been nothing but silence so far.

Zhang uses the broken head of Buddha as a vehicle to comment on the longevity of Buddha as a belief system… the monumental scale of this work seems to illustrate the side of organized religion that is given to excess and extravagance, the side that is often the target of criticism.’* However, I still see kindness on the face of the beheaded Buddha.

Religion in itself is no crime, unless the reader is a Marxist. It is how religion is practiced that makes a difference. Perhaps the artist could instead use the believers as his subject; or maybe he deliberately retains a vista of benevolence on Buddha for viewers to attain enlightenment.

*Quotation from display plate on location.

(Two works above on display at Asia Society Hong Kong.)

Subversive Fun

Florentijn Hofman, Rubber Duck, 
Victoria Harbour 2013, Inflated polyethylene

Yoskay Yamamoto, Wish To Meet You One Day, 
Causeway Bay 2013

Fabien Mérelle, Pentateuque, Central 2013, Fibre-glass

Designer unknown, Old Master-Q老夫子
Kowloon Park 2013, Fibre-glass

These four pieces successfully draw our emotions and other senses. Personally I had moments of enjoying these spectacles. I would be stone-hearted to dismiss the rubber duck completely, so to say. This is not an opportunity to denounce their existence. In my opinion, they are not works of art because they are incapable of stimulating the intellect and advancing the spirit.

However these works unwittingly confuse the public into treating them as public art. Their disseminating presences, always managing to attract audiences through their pleasant appearances, undermine the way we look at artworks. In time, it becomes the setting criterion in the public sub-conscious of art appreciation.

In a market-driven society today, art cannot evade from the commercial currents. Art practitioners may even be succumbed to take the easy option of crowd-pleasing and produce quasi public art. There might be those who are taken to believe that this is the way to communicate with audiences. In a long run, the quality of art takes a beating and we are  on a downward spiral.


BradJill (Tripadvisor) said...

Nice blog. Thank you for sharing, BradJill (Tripadvisor)

Lee Shu-fan said...

interesting comments on our work Overlap :)
Lee Shu-fan