International Sculpture Symposium
The Hong Kong International Sculpture Symposium brings world-class sculptors to West Kowloon, writes Clare Morin
They appear out of the mist on the Waterfront Promenade, instantly recognisable with their broad-shoulders, thick forearms and, on closer inspection, broken fingernails. Seeing sculptors assemble en masse like this is a rare sight in the city, and to see them gather on the grounds of the West Kowloon Cultural District for our photo shoot, is surprisingly moving.
Amid the gruelling debates surrounding the building of an arts district from scratch, rarely have the artists themselves been invited to the site. On March 12, this will all change. Fourteen local and internationally renowned sculptors will take over these blissfully quiet, waterside grounds, in the inaugural Hong Kong International Sculpture Symposium. The event will see the artists creating works in large white marquees, as the public wanders around, watches, and engages with the sculptors: a mini-arts festival taking over the serene, grass-covered site.
“This is really the way to get in touch with the public,” says Victor Tai Sheung-shing, smiling at the empty space around him. The vice-president of the Hong Kong Sculpture Society has played a large role in organising the event, and believes that it will have a positive impact on the art form’s perception. “The public understands a lot more about how sculptors work at these symposiums; we’re creating art right in front of the public, from raw materials to the finished work.”
The International Sculpture Symposium movement originated in Austria in 1959, when sculptor Karl Prantl created an event in an abandoned stone quarry in a bid to provide networking opportunities for artists working in 3D. Symposiums have since spread across the world, and first appeared in Hong Kong in 2008. Victor Tai was already planning a symposium for the city when the locally-based Czech sculptor Emil Adamec literally beat him to it. “He jumped the queue,” says Tai with a smile. “He made the largest sculpture ever handmade in Hong Kong.”
Last April, Adamec organised a symposium in Tin Shui Wai Park with ten sculptors working in the open for 30 days, successfully engaging with the local community. Adamec himself is a captivating artist, who for the past 12 years has engaged in a worldwide sculptural project called Acupuncture of the Earth. Taking the entire globe as his subject, he has used astrological charts to map out his chosen locations in more than 45 countries, taking inspiration from indigenous cultures to carve enormous, flowing sculptural works that he says work like acupuncture needles in healing the planet. “I want to use the system of the stars and mirror it on the Earth, to make the Earth more happy and healthy,” he explains.
The Hong Kong International Sculpture Symposium will be even bigger than Adamec’s efforts, and co-organised by the Hong Kong Sculpture Society in partnership with the Arts Promotion Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. A group of international sculptors have been invited, including Zimbabwe’s Tapiwa Chapo, Manit Kantasak from Thailand and Yang Xiaohua from Guangzhou. Of the five local sculptors, Zhang Ban will be making a fascinating political piece made of plastic and metal in the image of Chief Executive Donald Tsang, with a mailbox in the centre where audiences can post messages to Tsang. “Art should be asking questions and making people think,” argues the groovy looking artist. “Donald Tsang’s government should be doing more for local artists.”
Meanwhile, American sculptor Christopher Rothermel, the Sculpture Area Head at the Academy of Visual Arts at Hong Kong Baptist University, will be creating Elysium out of marble, with a pure sculptural concept driving the piece. “The work that I’m doing now embodies a way that’s consistent with the nature of the material, not transforming it into a plastic state, with high polish and something that we don’t recognise as the material anymore,” the talented young artist and educator explains. “I’m looking at the natural properties, the visual language of the material.”
In addition to the artists working on the site, there will also be an exhibition of works made by local sculptors, and two talks at the Central Library with academics and artists discussing the role of public art in the city. Yet, the sheer power of this event is the opportunity it poses for the public to meet and interact with artists. “In many people’s minds, especially in Hong Kong, people think these artists are really high up in the air; you cannot even see them never mind talk to them,” says Tai. He adds that he believes once audiences visit, they’ll soon be back for more. “From my experience overseas, people will come back again and again to check on the progress of the sculpture” he says. Now that’s how you go about building an organic arts scene.
The Hong Kong International Sculpture Symposium opens Thu 12 at the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade. More info: www.hksculpture.org.