Hong Kong’s first international sculpture park opened last month, featuring works by 19 international and local artists. Presented by Hong Kong Arts Centre and their lead partner H Queen’s, the project is the realisation 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 whose works demonstrate the ability to be incorporated into an everyday context and a relevance specific to the city and its 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 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.
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 US and Western hemisphere at large, this is the first time Thomas’ 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, they 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.
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.”
Subtle implications of connections between the events that unfolded during umbrella movement and the outerspace 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 and 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.
Future, past and present are all reflected in Morgan Wong’s A Time Capsule of Someday, which “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 shaved daily starting from 2013 until it became 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.
To learn more about Harbour Arts Sculpture Park, visit the Hong Kong Arts Centre website.
This Artling story has been e-edited by Mika Apichatsakol for ThailandTatler.com.