'Naked Man' sculptures on Hong Kong’s rooftops spark calls to police after they’re mistaken for suicide attempts

Life-sized sculptures appear on roofs throughout Central - and generate heated discussion on social media

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 2:36pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 9:43pm

The “Naked Man” sculptures by a world famous artist mounted on the rooftop of buildings in Central Hong Kong have sparked calls to the police from citizens who mistook them for suicide attempts.

The 31 life-sized sculptures by UK artist Antony Gormley, part of the public art installation Event Horizon, confused some passers-by who thought they were witnessing someone about to jump off a building - the most common way of committing suicide in Hong Kong.

The police received three reports from worried citizens yesterday, which generated heated discussion on internet forums.

“How would I know it was a sculpture looking from afar? It’s really scary,” one netizen wrote in discussion forum Golden.

READ MORE: Event Horizon rooftop sculpture display by British artist Antony Gormley must come with sensitivity about suicides in Hong Kong

“Seriously this has gone too far. What if it becomes ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’?” wrote another netizen.

But some web users defended the project, saying that it is art and calling the police was embarrassing.

The police said it received the calls yesterday at 9.12am, 2.20pm and 3.15pm.

“Citizens reported to the police, suspecting a person standing on the rooftop of St George’s Building attempted suicide,” the police said. “Officers were sent to inspect the site and it turned out to be a sculpture.”

Seriously this has gone too far. What if it becomes ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’?
Web user’s comment

Event Horizon is a privately-funded public art project presented by The British Council, with the K11 Art Foundation as the event’s lead partner providing programme, finance and venue "support".

Of the 31 sculptures, 27 are made of fibreglass each weighing 30kg, and mounted on rooftops, while four are made of cast iron and each weigh 630kg. These are set up at ground level.

Organisers began installing the sculptures on Wednesday on the rooftops of City Hall lower block, Hip Shing Hong Centre, New World Tower II, St. George’s Building and the Queensway Government Offices.

According to a 2011 HKU survey, 14 out of every 100,000 Hongkongers committed suicide in 2010, a higher rate than France, the US and the UK. Of those, half killed themselves by jumping off a building.

Last year, Hongkong Land reportedly withdrew sponsorship following objections from J.P. Morgan after one of the US investment bank’s Hong Kong employees plunged to his death from a Hongkong Land building in Central.

Super star Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing also killed himself by jumping off Mandarin Oriental hotel in Central in 2003.

READ MORE: On the edge: How acclaimed 'man on rooftop' sculptures nearly fell victim to fear of public criticism in Hong Kong

A spokesman for the project said organisers were looking into installing five sculptures per day across Central and Western district until November 17.

Event Horizon will be officially launched on November 19 at Statue Square in Central. The installations will remain in place until May 18.

Although Gormley will only make a short visit to Hong Kong, the spokesman said the artist had been working with the installation team remotely.

Born in 1950, Gormley is a world famous artist who was the winner of the Turner Prize in 1994. He was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 1997 and a knight in last year’s New Year’s Honours list.

M+, the West Kowloon visual arts museum in the making, acquired Gormley’s 2003 work Asian Field after receiving a US$1 million donation. The installation consists of 210,000 hand-sized clay sculptures.

The artist will give a talk at the University of Hong Kong on Monday. A series of educational programmes will also start on Monday, including lectures, seminars, workshops and guided tours.

Event Horizon was first mounted in London in 2007. It travelled to New York City in 2010 and San Paulo in Brazil in 2012.