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One of the Gormley figures atop City Hall Concert Hall in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is currently the site of a public art project by Antony Gormley, a British visual artist renowned for his sculptures and public artworks. The project is called Event Horizon and features 31 naked-man statues placed atop buildings and in public areas. Event Horizon was first mounted in London in 2007, and later in New York City, San Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Rotterdam. This exhibit was privately funded and mounted by the British Council.

I was prompted to write about this because I have seen a few of these statues and they really are fascinating.

I think Hong Kong is such an interesting choice for this project and I applaud the courage of the presenters. The visual arts are popular in HK largely, I think, because of the investment value. But the concept of art as a vehicle for reflecting life, nourishing the soul, provoking thought, enriching quality of life, blah blah blah is just not on here in Hong Kong for a great majority of the people. So this installation was a risk for the planners and a bit of a poke with a stick for the locals.

Queensway Government Offices in Admiralty

Another Gormley figure on the roof of the Queensway Government Offices in Admiralty, Hong Kong. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Naturally, there was some pushback from the community. Its installation was delayed a year because of sensitivity to the high number of suicides by people jumping from tall buildings. The British Council consulted with fire services, police, and district councils ahead of time and secured the support of landlords and government. Nevertheless, people have been frightened and disturbed when they first see the statues, a not uncommon response in other cities as well. Some people thought the exhibition should just be moved indoors, but that would negate Gormley’s intention, which is to make people think about man’s place in nature.

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Naked Man sculpture is fenced off in Central. Photo: SCMP Pictures

 

What I find really funny is that one of the statues at street level seems to have caused the greatest fuss here in HK. The figure is placed on a street in a busy area of the Central business district, forcing people to walk around it and interact with it in some way. But someone complained, so the Highways Department leapt into action by fencing it off with an ugly, triangular-shaped metal barrier with Highways Department logos. No contemplating art as a reflection of life for those government workers! The fencing so defaces the sculpture … or perhaps you could generously say it transforms the sculpture, thereby provoking deeper contemplation of the meaning of life … Thankfully, the barrier was removed not long after and the Gormley statue lives on.

It is a pretty cool installation. I hope lots of people see it that way and think about it constructively rather than obstructively. The exhibit continues until mid-May 2016.