Shapes of things already present

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am


Norman Ko Wah-man's Flight is seen by thousands who pass through the plaza between Wan Chai's Immigration and Revenue Towers every day. But despite its prominent position, the bronze sculpture remains a forgettable and forgotten work of art. Its solid geometrical representation of an aircraft typifies a government-selected public art commission: it's safe in both the physical and conceptual senses.

Challenging that straight-laced legacy are works on show at Grotto Fine Art, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary. With a loose freedom and democracy theme, 'Sculptural Dimension - Contemporary HK Sculpture' features seven mid-career artists whose work deserves to be seen in a wider range of public spaces.

These artists demonstrate that sculpture does not need to be bland and safe, that sculpture holding a range of emotions - whimsy, nostalgia, fear, anger - usually avoided in government-sponsored public spaces, can be aesthetically enjoyable and happily confronting to an audience.

Kevin Fung Lik-yan's recent works, for instance, have a more personal and representational style that often reflects the concerns of this city's middle class. 'Despite great material success, at the end of the day people must still shop and carry their own shopping home. In my Baggage series I depict the loads of life,' says the artist. Using this simple premise, his depiction of people carrying bags and other objects, including a cloud surrounding a head, reflects a fantastical rather than melancholic rendering of life in this busy city.

Likewise, Realm of Freedom, seen in this exhibition, simply depicts a boat in water, its underside painted blue - the sculpture's only painted element. However, his use of sea-coloured blue is juxtaposed against the undulating wood-brown grain of the water; by using this visual opposite a touch of levity is introduced offering a positive note about Hong Kong's stunted democracy aspirations.

Situated in industrial Kwai Fong, Fung's studio is a wood sculptor's space littered with sculpting tools, saws, benches and timber - he prefers teak - awaiting projects. A former telecommunications engineer and techno 'nerd', Fung recently decided to become a full-time artist, using the justification of those starting afresh: 'If I don't do it now, I will never do it.'

Fung was attracted by the tactile qualities and hands-on freedom of sculpture that provided a balance to his technical daytime job hunched over a computer. He enrolled in a part-time certificate course in contemporary sculpture led by the late Tong King-sum, whose influence can be seen in his early abstract pieces.

Kacey Wong Kwok-choi has built an impressive body of sculptural and installation artwork over the past decade. Known for his Drift City performance series and mobile homes for the homeless, his recent work has increasingly delved into political, spiritual and social concerns covering such issues as unemployment, housing, poverty, child abuse and, with Ai Weiwei's recent detention on the mainland, freedom and democracy.

'Mao Zedong said 'political power grows out of the barrel of a gun', but if you need to be violent, then it never goes away,' Wong says while pulling apart Exhale, a cast glass rendition of a revolver with six tear-like stylised bullets. 'This gun is in the form of a puzzle - war is a puzzle. The gun's red colour is purposely cloudy, reminiscent of blood bubbling as it runs from a gunshot wound. Later comes the in-and-out gasping of breath exhaling. It's too easy being violent - that's the puzzle.'

Gallery artists Rosanna Li Wei-han, with her obese stoneware women, and Danny Lee Chin-fai's stainless steel waterfall pieces each complement the exhibition with new work alongside Ho Siu-kee's Orbiter No 3, a sculpture about aeronautical travel and outer space.

Labor, Kum Chi-keung's contribution to the show, is a modelled birdcage in the shape of a pregnant woman; inside this protective but vulnerable space are figures in rapid flux.

Kum's own path to becoming a respected full-time artist started slowly and conventionally: part-time hours studying traditional Chinese painting while working full-time. But his years of rote copying of paintings abruptly changed when Kum first visited the Hong Kong Arts Centre in 1989 and realised that art and the media used could be incredibly diverse. He recalls: 'In the early 1990s, some friends and I rented a cheap house on Lamma Island and on weekends we went there to paint. A few years later I started using birdcages in my installation work.'

Kum has since only used birdcages, feathers, nests and stylised birds in his installation works: 'I purposely chose the birdcage and its related parts as it embodies the elements that I wish to explore in my installations: the sky, ocean and land.'

Since 1995, Kum's use of the humble birdcage has led to countless permutations in form and installation arrangement - and, some so complex, such as Big Bird, that Kum's computer designs require skilled workmen on the mainland experienced in working and shaping bamboo.

Fiona Wong Lai-ching is a busy ceramics lecturer at The Art School and teacher at The Pottery Workshop where her careful concern for the long history of ceramics in its many forms from around the world is influencing a new generation of ceramic artists. Her own work equally straddles the functional form of containers alongside more elaborate sculpture. In The Moon, Wong has shaped a thin layer of porcelain to create a hazy, translucent depiction of a tree under moonlight; the resulting chiaroscuro gives an intriguing impression of clouds moving across the sky.

Henry Au-yeung, director of Grotto Fine Art, says the exhibition draws concern from Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo's continuing imprisonment on the mainland. 'Sculpture allows more freedom of expression. It is harder to stylise and there is a greater range of forms to explore the topic.' Grotto Fine Art, 2/F, 31C-D Wyndham St, Central. Inquiries: 2121 2270. Mon-Sat, 11am-7pm, ends Aug 27