Men at work

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2006, 12:00am

AMID HONG KONG'S crowded skyscrapers and teeming streets, local artists are finding new spaces and ways to introduce their three-dimensional works to the public.

Locally based British sculptor James Wolfe, whose pieces explore and break geometry, says the city's streets, shops and malls are potential venues for temporary public art and performances.

'We don't necessarily need to look for anchor pieces of sculpture that are going to be there for 50 years,' says the 44-year-old artist, who has lived in Hong Kong for five years. 'It would be a positive thing to develop this concept of temporary public art. It [fits] the ever-changing style of Hong Kong. It doesn't stand still.'

During a day-long public performance sponsored by a property developer on Sunday, Wolfe made a cubist-influenced, tree-like sculpture in a cordoned-off driveway outside Lee Gardens, on Causeway Bay's Hysan Avenue.

Accompanied by experimental music, amplified sounds of working and echoes in the background, Wolfe shaped, fixed and painted pieces of plywood and styrofoam into a three-metre-tall sculpture within a few hours. The Briton says the concrete jungle theme of the piece is a response to 'the architectural rhythm of Hong Kong'. He also exhibited two other tree-form sculptures.

Wolfe graduated from the Wimbledon School of Art in London and held his first solo exhibition, of stone carving, in 1988. He came to Hong Kong five years ago on a visit and liked it so much that he stayed. He now works from a studio in Sheung Wan, and has participated in a number of arts-education projects and created murals for schools and hospitals. He preparing for a solo exhibition in December. His three tree sculptures will be displayed for at least a week in Lee Gardens' ground-floor exhibition lobby.

Wolfe says the local art scene is expanding, with more sculptures being displayed in public areas and institutes. An exhibition of Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming's work at Times Square last month highlights an increasing interest by shopping centres and property companies in cultural events, he says - providing a chance to introduce the public to sculpture.

'I think that'll be a great thing for Hong Kong to have this sort of spectacle, which isn't necessarily permanent,' Wolfe says. 'It's a very street-oriented city. All the life happens in the streets, grand shops and shopping malls. It's a perfect place and a perfect opportunity for young artists to get their work out there.'

Such public areas are easily accessible and can help make the art scene less intimidating for people, Wolfe says. 'Not everything is good, but that doesn't matter,' he says. 'What it will do is to create a debate, and make people interested in it.'

Local sculptor Wong Tin-yan, who displayed three of his scrap-wood animal sculptures alongside Wolfe's works at Sunday's event, agrees that sculpture can develop in the city. Some sculptors now create pieces in smaller sizes, in different materials, or in easily assembled formats to overcome problems of display and storage, Wong says.

In March, the Chinese University fine-art graduate transformed an MTR carriage into a mobile showcase for some of his sculptures of crocodiles and oxen, which brought his work to commuters at different stations.

'There are now more opportunities for young artists,' Wong says. After the controversy over the West Kowloon Cultural District development, a number of companies and organisations have shown more interest in arts projects.

Wong says it's unclear whether the trend reflects genuine interest among companies to help develop local art, or just a way for them to boost their public image. But he says artists have little to lose if the events benefit both parties.

Wong prefers working with organisers who are serious about the projects and are professional in dealing with artists and their works. Some companies set too many restrictions on the artworks, or fail to deliver their promised backing, he says. Art critic Connie Lam Suk-yee says the private sector's increasing interest in the arts is a positive step that could result in more space becoming available for displays, although she doubts that the trend will have a significant influence on public art.

But Lam says she hopes the momentum will push developers and the government to allocate more space for public art in their plans.