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Public Displays of Art: Hong Kong's First Sculpture Park


Public Displays of Art: Hong Kong's First Sculpture Park
MATTHEW TSANG MAN FU, Installation view of Before Collapse, 2018, Image Courtesy of Harbour Arts Sculpture Park.

Hong Kong’s first international sculpture park, opened this week featuring works by nineteen international and local artists.  Presented by Hong Kong Arts Centre and their lead partner H Queen’s, the project is the realization of collaborative efforts between several public and private entities, artists, galleries, and co-curators Tim Marlow, director of the Royal Academy of Arts (UK) and Fumio Nanjo, director of the Mori Art Museum (Tokyo).

Scattered across and along the harbour front from Central to Wan Chai, forming a kind of “museum without walls” as described by Tim Marlow, the sculptures subtly enhance Hong Kong’s powerful skyline, altering an iconic public space.  Marlow and Nanjo have emphasized the significance of the park in developing a public arts program for Hong Kong, in selecting artists who’s works demonstrate the ability to be incorporated into an everyday context, and a relevance specific to the city and it’s people.  In particular pieces were chosen which aesthetically related to the city, spoke to the site, and were culturally pertinent to the people of Hong Kong.  Additionally, an important curatorial priority was exposing audiences to a roster of artists who are imperative to defining the standards of contemporary art.  

Adapting seamlessly to the site, many of the pieces visually correlate to the the wide array of geometries provided by the architectural background.  While wandering through the space, visitors are able to encounter Anthony Gormley’s rather cubist representation of the human form, Rasheed Aareen’s striking blue geometric complex, entitled Hong Kong Blues, and Jenny Holzer’s minimalist conceptual white bench - perched in the midst of the viewing platform.  Yayoi Kusama, Michael Craig Martin, Zhan Wang, Zheng Guogu, Gimhongsok, Tony Oursler, Conrad Shawcross, Bosco Sodi, and Hank Willis Thomas, are amongst other international artists whose works are on view.  

ANTONY GORMLEY, Installation view of DAZE VI, 2016,  Image Courtesy of Harbour Arts Sculpture Park.

RASHEED ARAEEN, Installation view of Hong Kong Blues, 2008, Image Courtesy of Harbour Arts Sculpture Park

JENNY HOLZER, Installation view of Truisms, 2013, Image Courtesy of Harbour Arts Sculpture Park.

The landscape of Hong Kong is not the only element inspiring curators and artists.  Urban language and communication is another prevalent theme, one explored particularly well by American artist Hank Willis Thomas.  Established and immensely popular in the U.S and western hemisphere at large, this is the first time Thomas’s works have been exhibited in Asia.   Characterized by a universality that transcends cultural borders, his works intend to challenge the way traditional signage is depicted in metropolitan settings.  His installation, Speech Bubble Tree, consists of enlarged speech bubbles installed in a tree.  Spelling out the phrase, “The Truth is I Love You,” in English on one side, and Chinese on the other, placed outside the entrance of the Lyric Theatre in the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts complex.  In explaining the origin behind the concept, he focuses on the lack of visual signage without ulterior motives:

“You could say its kind of sappy, but at the same time most of the signs we see in public spaces are either directions, or trying to direct us towards buying something, so I really like the idea of making something that is directed towards people, but trying to make them feel good and accepted in a public space” 
Physical interaction is encouraged and enlivens his other sculpture, Ernest and Ruth, which is adjacent to the Speech Bubble Tree.  A bench in the shape of a speech bubble, the literal allusions to day-to-day human communications and necessity of speech is highlighted by the juxtaposition of both pieces.

HANK WILLIS THOMAS, Installation view of Truth Bubble Sign Tree, 2015, Image Courtesy of Harbour Arts Sculpture Park.

HANK WILLIS THOMAS, Installation view of Ernest and Ruth, 2015, Image Courtesy of Harbour Arts Sculpture Park.

Human presence is also a crucial element of local artist Kacey Wong’s installation, Asteroids and Comets. Composed of linear and circular geometric sculptures, complementing the skyscrapers behind, and simultaneously referencing Wong’s own architectural background.  Wong encourages people to step inside them and immerse themselves in the structures.  

Placed next to what was known as the infamous “dark corner” during the umbrella movement, just steps away from the Legco building, the site is politically and emotionally charged for the artist who was a vital activist in the movement.  In describing many people’s attitude towards politics he says:  “They try to cut off politics from their personal life, as if they can do that. I don’t see it that way, I embrace it with my arms open.”  

Politics is a part of his life as much as art: “meaning, in [my] life there are political problems and social ones, and in a abstract way (as talked about in art) questions about the origins of life.  As I was installing this work, I was thinking about the ‘dark corner’, and also in a way, exploring the dark hole of the universe.”  

Subtle implications of connections between the events that unfolded during umbrella movement and the outer-space theme of the piece, a futuristic vision encapsulates the work, perhaps contemplating the future of Hong Kong itself. For this reason, the participation of local artists is highly critical to this project as they are able to reflect upon their home, culture, and help facilitate the development of a local art community.  Other local contributing artists include, Wong Chi-yung, Matthew Tsang, Ho Kwun Ting and Morgan Wong.  

KACEY WONG, Installation view of Asteroids and Comets, 2017, Image Courtesy of Harbour Arts Sculpture Park.

Future, past, and present are all reflected in Morgan Wong’s A Time Capsule of Someday, whose work “prompts audiences to think about what could be of Hong Kong someday.”  A spin-off piece from his Time-needle series, it comprises a marble plaque, which serves as a frontal representation for a needle buried beneath.  This tube in the shape of a needle contains metal dust from a steel bar – the same height and weight of Wong himself  - which he shaves daily starting from 2013, until it becomes the shape of a needle.  Process driven and indicative of determination and duration, the idea comes from a Chinese allegory “Filing down a steel bar until a needle is made.” While Wong combines concepts applicable to Hong Kong, the size and site of the plaque distinguish it from other sculptures in the park.  

Located in a public park outside the Hong Kong Arts Centre (though all part of the same, connected complex), the small size of the plaque allows it to be in a contrasting “dialogue with existing public sculpture,” Wong explains.  In, “thinking about Hong Kong, there are so many monuments, so in relation to them my work is anti-monumental.”         

MORGAN WONG, Installation view of Time Needle (A Time Capsule of Some Day), 2018, Image Courtesy Harbour Arts Sculpture Park.

The curation of the park in itself is the first step in an initiative to create a discourse between the city, people, and art community, setting the bench mark for future public art programs to come. Hong Kong is renowned for its booming art market and is regarded to be the Asian art hub, however there are still sectors of the art community that are severely under-represented, from local art initiatives to more experimental art spaces.  A critical supplement to encouraging the growth of arts is education, which should be the main aim of all public art endeavors.  Appropriately, accompanying the exhibition is an educational program supported by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, which hosts an extensive range of workshops and activities.  Hopefully, the existence of this park through the quality of its organization and curation will bolster Hong Kong’s reputation where cultural legitimacy is concerned.  

ZHAN WANG, Installation view of 45 Degrees Artificial Rock, 2014,  Image Courtesy of Harbour Arts Sculpture Park.

For more information, please visit the official Harbour Arts Sculpture Park website.

Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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