Four years on, sculpture still just a notion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 August, 2009, 12:00am

Erecting a piece of sculpture in the city centre can take as long as building an arts hub containing 15 venues and one museum, especially when approval is needed from numerous departments.

Concerns include safety issues, such as people getting their heads or fists stuck in the installation.

The Hong Kong Arts Centre has been hoping to put a 10-metre-long, three-metre-tall sculpture beside the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui East as part of its public art scheme since 2005, but the sculpture is still just an artist's impression on paper.

The centre says the idea is supported by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's Art Promotion Office, with the government providing HK$1 million for its production and first year of maintenance.

The abstract sculpture, made up of numerous circular holes, was designed by local architecture firm Edge, which has collaborated with the Arts Centre several times before.

The design required approvals from various parties, including Fire Services, the Lands Department and the district council. There has also been a long debate over who will pay the maintenance fees and insurance.

'Different stakeholders have different concerns, such as safety issues. They have a different mentality,' said Connie Lam Suk-yee, the Arts Centre's executive director.

Ms Lam said concerns over spectators getting their heads or fists stuck in the holes of the sculpture had been raised.

'They are also worried that people will climb on the sculpture,' Ms Lam said.

Arts Centre chairwoman Cissy Pao Watari said the cent had been given height limitations and instructions to build a sculpture that could be sat on.

'The design contains some holes, and we are trying to minimise the risk. We also thought of many functional aspects for the sculpture, so we keep changing the design,' Ms Lam said. 'But we need a balance on the artistic side to achieve the best result without compromising too much.'

She said another reason for the delay was switching the material from iron to fibreglass to reduce the cost. It required testing and a registered engineer's approval.

The project also had to get approval from the MTR Corporation, which had facilities around the chosen area, and the police, because the location was used by the public to view fireworks three times a year.

Ms Watari blamed the government for not having a comprehensive policy to deal with public art.

Ms Lam said each government department followed different rules and a common policy was needed 'so that everyone understands how it works'.

The Art Promotion Office has been conducting public art schemes since 1999, creating 189 pieces.

Office curator Cheng Woon-tong said safety issues were always part of any discussion of public art, but this was not the reason so much time was needed for finalising the design.

Mr Cheng said changes in the Arts Centre's management over the past few years had interrupted the project's progress. The office and the Arts Centre reached a consensus on the project in 2005, but the office did not receive the first draft of the design until February 2007. The second draft did not come until this summer.

Mr Cheng said the new design had yet to be approved and needed feedback from various parties.

He said a public art project could take as little as six months to complete, but it depended on the nature of the piece and its location.

Ms Lam said public art should be incorporated in future urban- renewal plans.

'Now we are hoping the sculpture can be erected on the site in the spring of 2010,' she said. 'We hope that our next public art project will take just three years to complete.'