Monday, July 10, 2006

The Sculptures in the Forum, Exchange Square

The Forum in Exchange Square: home of Hong Kong's busy stock exchange. Many of us pass by the immaculately kept area every day, failing to ask ourselves questions about the artworks on display here, or indeed to ask ourselves why it is called the forum at all when it is, as a part of a private corporate building, hardly the 'Forum' for public discussion in the Roman sense.

As we have been working on a project for the Hong Kong Museum of Art for an audio guide for their outdoor sculpture installations on the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade, I've been doing a fair bit of reading about any scraps and bits and pieces on Hong Kong sculpture that I can find. I uncovered a very interesting book, called Hong Kong Art: Culture and Decolonization, by David Clarke. It has a brilliant passage that identifies why there are certain pieces and why they are there. Without further ado:
When completed in 1985 Exchange Square was one of the most outstanding pieces of contemporary architecture in Hong Kong, and it still commands rents that reflect its prestige status. The choice of works by overseas sculptors with international reputations functions to underline and enhance profitably the building's own claims to modernity and international status (even if its form - considered in sculptural terms - is more indebted than theirs to the language of geometric abstraction). At the same time there is a note of contrast introduced at the level of subject matter which works to the same effect - thwe water buffaloes remind us of the old agricultural Hong Kong that trade and development have now replaced, thereby enhancing the adjacent building's sense of contemporaneity.

The international associations of the choice of sculptors are also appropriate to a stock exchange, a nexus of global flows of both money and information. Indeed further examination of the ensemble indicates that care has been taken to assemble works that allude to good fortune in general or even to stock market success in particular. Direct reference to the notion of a 'bull market' is surely intended in the choice of water buffalo as a subject, even if such an association would not be uppermost in a differing context of display. Sunce the pair of Frink sculptures were directly commissioned in 1986, it is fair to assume that local reference and auspicious connotation were intended by the artist herself and even perhaps accepted as part of her brief, but this is not the case with the other two sculptures that make up the ensemble. They were pre-existing works and the site-specifric meanings they carry are ones which have been created by the act of display itself. The Ju Ming piece (purchased from an exhbition of the artist's works held in Exchange Square's gallery, the Rotunda, to mark the building's opening) carries markedly Chinese connotations because of its subject matter. This is of course appropriate in general terms: it helps to counteract the perhaps too overtly Western language by which the building expresses its modernity, proving a balancing of cultural references that artists such as Lui Shou-kwan, Wucius Wong or Van Lau have also sought. A more specific relevance to a stock exchange and site of business, however, is provided by the resemblance between this figure with outstretched arms and the Chinese character meaning 'big''. Such connotations of profitability, also found in the Frink works, are echoed and reinforced in the Moore. Writing is again involved as the negative space inside it resemble a numeral eight, which is highly auspicious in Cantinese on account of a similarity between the pronunciation of the character for 'eight' and that of the character meaning 'to prosper'.
Interesting observations that mirror those we had in our original Central walking tour. Something to think about next time you stroll by on your way to IFC or a burger at Triple Os!

No comments: