Environmental Art on Victoria Harbour,
Hong Kong (1997)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 17 February 2011
This review first appeared in World Sculpture News, 3(3), September 1997, on page 55.

Environmental Art on Victoria Harbour

Organized by the French-Canadian Jacques Bossé and sponsored by Hong Kong Yellow Pages, the outdoor exhibition The Yellow Pages Great Wall was recently installed along Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui promenade, an elevated walkway hugging the Kowloon harbourfront that is known for its spectacular waterside views of Hong Kong Island. The show featured 21 open-air “stalls”, or implied towers made of bamboo scaffolding, roughly six by six feet and rising up to 20 feet in height, within and around which the artists installed their work.

Under a loose environmental theme, artists were asked to create works that dealt with such issues as recycling, pollution, garbage, and to incorporate natural elements into their work. Drawing upon a wide variety of artists in Hong Kong, the show included work by Robert O’Brien, [Kent Laforme], Renee Melchert Thorpe, Kum Chi Keung, Wong Shun Kit, in addition to others.

Maintaining the environmental theme, artist and educator Robert O’Brien’s installation Initiation consisted of found materials— wood, discarded fabric, metal, and sand from a building site. O’Brien suspended most of these materials using string and elevated tree branches to suggest a spiritual intervention by “initiating a tree into a monk”. At the same time he created a “three-dimensional line drawing” with string tied to the two towers. With this poetic and energetic gesture, he attempted to honor the tree in a way normally designated to monks, and create a safe distance, or respect, for nature. Afterwards, O’Brien intended to return the materials to their original found locations.

Influenced by the exhibition’s location on the harbour, French-Canadian [Kent Laforme] used rope moorings in his installation, Red knot. Departing from his previous work in stone and marble, Laforme chose discarded rope of different widths to make an abstract knot form. Inside the “knot”, he put red pigment to be washed out during the summer rains.

Presenting the most accessible work, and taking into account the diverse audience for this show, in I threw it all away, American Renee Melchert Thorpe chose to playfully remind viewers of the casual excesses of Hong Kong life. Inspired by signs hung at Japanese shrines requesting personal wishes, she hung very simple “signs” on the scaffolding, made of enamel on found balsa wood, with “confessions” written in Chinese and English on the back. Behind the image of a dog, she wrote, “it didn’t fit in my lifestyle,” reflecting the disposable status of pets in Hong Kong. Other signs included the image of a low-rise building with the legend, “I could make more profit,” and a purse with “a girl can change her mind, can’t she?”inscribed on the flip side.

Using bamboo bird cages, a familiar motif in his work, Kum Chi Keung created an organic installation by placing them in a “disorganized” way on the top of his tower, in his installation called Fruit. With the bamboo scaffolding he created the abstract illusion of a tree, and in so doing departed from his previous, more architectural works.

In an untitled installation, Wong Shun Kit used bamboo to present the implied form of the “Yellow Pages’ fingers.” Stacked and spread out, Yellow Pages books occupied the space with the words “Yellow Pages Great Wall” painted on four books. As explained by the artist, the work was an appeal for continued sponsorship for this and other art events in Hong Kong.

With Food, artist Alan Lau displayed unusual animal body parts, usually the excess in food production (for example, chicken’s feet and hearts, and even a cow’s penis). He took these parts and put them in plastic bags with a wine vinegar solution, hung them with string, and “framed” them using the rectangular shapes of the scaffolding.

While the show illustrated a cross-section of approaches to the abstract theme of the environment, as well as current approaches by a cross-section of Hong Kong artists at different stages in their careers, the show presented a continuingly necessary theme which offered some spirit, color, teaching, form, and a little controversy... [which was described at length in the less flowery submitted review, but cut out in editorial processing, dear Art Design Publicity magazine enthusiasts...!]