Suffering from terminal boredom? Airport art breaks the mould

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2005, 12:00am


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Australian businessman Ken Woodman gazes at an oval-shaped, boulder-like glossy stainless steel object in the departure hall of Hong Kong International Airport. He's puzzled.

'What is it?' Woodman asks. 'I don't know what it is. I can't imagine what it is.' The frequent traveller to Hong Kong says he thought it was part of a racing car when he first spotted the silhouette of the new display.

'I quite like it,' he says. 'It looks like an egg - an egg gone wrong. It adds a bit to the flavour of the airport and is certainly not out of place.'

The 65-year-old passenger is looking at a sculpture named A drop of dew created by local artist Danny Lee Chin-fai. It's one of eight pieces of art on display in the terminal.

This is the first time the Hong Kong Airport Authority has commissioned pieces for what is the world's fifth busiest international passenger airport, which was designed by British architect Norman Foster.

'The intention is to give people departing Hong Kong a last impression of the city,' says authority commercial director Hans Bakker.

In providing a public platform for art, the airport is following in the footsteps of MTR stations, housing estates and shopping malls. Last December, it exhibited works by 18 artists along the central concourse. Through art, the authority wants to provide 'extra dimensions' for passengers to relax, enjoy the environment and even reflect for a moment, Bakker says. The new pieces are in the foyer of the East Hall after passport control.

In his four sculptures about nature, Lee says he's tried to evoke the beauty of wildlife and the environment through magnified and abstract images of a dewdrop, a rock, birds and trees.

A drop of dew, for example, serves as a wide-angle lens or a distorting mirror that provides odd reflections of objects and people around. 'We shouldn't neglect small things around us,' says Lee, 54, who is also vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Visual Arts Society and a director of the Hong Kong Artists Association.

Lee's pair of birds, Dic Dic Dot Dot, were inspired by his passion for Chinese scenery and ink-and-wash painting. 'I like my pieces to be more abstract because that can raise the level of appreciation and give the viewers more room for imagination,' he says. 'Different people will then get different impressions and can have their own interpretations of the works.'

Another set of his works in the terminal focuses on communication. Lee says the pieces - a bronze musical called Note, a red granite sculpture titled Comma and a black granite piece, Lineal Continuum - symbolise contact among people. They're arranged so people can walk between them and even sit on Lineal Continuum.

Mok Yat-san and Man Fung-yi's Imagination of the Sky comprises what looks like an ancient Chinese star chart embedded in cushion-shaped stainless steel. It's intended to reflect the traditional perception of the galaxy that posits a connection between one's fate and the stars. 'We tried to add the Chinese cultural element into a contemporary art form,' says Mok, 37. He and Man have been promoting public art at local schools.

Lee and Mok say they're happy to see their works displayed at the airport, through which millions of passengers pass each year.

Art critic Louis Yu Kwok-lit, welcomes the sculptures and says it's common overseas to exhibit art in airports. 'The question is how to display the works,' says Yu, who is executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre. 'Are they simply for ornament or being presented as works of art?'

A public area is different from a gallery or museum that's specifically designed to display art. Unless there's careful planning and arrangement, the works won't stand out, he says. 'That will undermine the pleasure in art appreciation.'

Bakker says the authority will continue to 'explore new opportunities for art display. If we have the opportunity to make a small contribution and establish a more cultural scene in Hong Kong, we'd love to do that.'

He won't say how much the authority has spent on the eight sculptures, but says such an investment in art is for the heritage of the airport, which itself is an architectural statement. 'Art is invaluable, so it's inappropriate to mention numbers.'