Gormley's Rooftop Art Finally Gets HK Looking Up



By: Meaghan McGurgan


Earlier this year British artist Antony Gormley chose Hong Kong as the site to install Event Horizon, the internationally acclaimed public art project. First shown in London in 2007, followed by Rotterdam, New York, São Paulo and Rio di Janeiro, it now will be here until May. It features life-size figures positioned all over the city, both on the ground and strategically placed on rooftops all over the city. 


'Event Horizon captures the particular time of a particular body: a subjective place. The principle dynamic of the work is the relationship between imagination and the horizon, involving the citizen in a game of seeking and perhaps finding. Beyond those figures that you can actually see, how many more are out of sight? Where is the meeting place of earth and sky? Through the catalyst of Event Horizon I want the city of Hong Kong to become a place of reverie that invites reflection on human nature and our place in the wider scheme of things,' says Mr. Gormley at a press conference at the British Council earlier this year.


But this seemingly innocent display of public art has caused quite a controversy over the past few weeks online and on Hong Kong's 999 emergency line. Many people have called in suicides, thinking the statues are real people and others think that Gormley's statues are offensive toward those whose family members have committed suicide in the past. 


This is not an unknown problem for the artist, as this complaint has been brought up in other cities the project has visited, but it seems to be a much larger issue in HK. There have been petitions and calls to remove the statues since their unveiling last week. The public criticism revolves mainly that the statues are inappropriate for a city where around half of the 900 people who commit suicide yearly do so by leaping from buildings. Their worry is understandable but perhaps the larger picture needs to be looked at. We can't simply censor art that offends us. That doesn't fix the problem but create a larger issue.


"I accept it is the first thing you think when you see a human form at the top of a tall building but it takes half a second to realize this is not a living person," Gormley says but he thinks the paranoia surrounding the project is "getting out of proportion".


"My purpose is not to bring the topic of suicide to people but I was shocked to hear about the suicide rate in Hong Kong. It is very high. It made me think – why didn’t I hear about the problem? It’s obviously a taboo subject and I would say that is not very healthy," he adds, suggesting the work might lead to the issue of suicide being talked about more openly with the Hong Kong community. He's hoping the statues will allow Hong Kong people to look up from their phones and enjoy the city. 


Has an art project in Hong Kong ever caused such a fuss before? Perhaps this a good thing for the art scene in HK. Earlier in the year, INVADER, came to Hong Kong and painted his famous tile paintings all over the city. They were quickly removed by the government less than a week later for being graffiti, despite the fact that INVADER's work sells for thousands of dollars at auction. Millions of dollars of "The King of Kowloon's" work have been painted over and removed over the years. The British Council went at lengths to make sure that Gormley's statues were legally placed and not removed by the government--- so maybe we should enjoy having a bit of public art for once in HK. 


Gormley says most artists are driven by the same motivation as those who painted the prehistoric caves in Rouffignac, adding that "the primary drive for art is about exploring or expressing life."

Event Horizon will remain in place until May 18th. It is being run in partnership with the British Council and the K11 Art Foundation. There will be a educational outreach program in conjunction with the project for those wanting to learn more about public art and sculpture.


In conclusion, I think all great pieces of art make us think. If every piece of artwork that was considered offensive was removed, we would have nothing but bowls of fruit and Andy Warhol's soup cans to look at. Let's enjoy the art, controversial or not. It's nice to look up and see something besides an advertisement for PCCW.


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