Within landscape urban design the relationship between a commissioned artwork and the natural environment is just as important as the physical object that is placed there. Public artworks need human interaction to transcend from their inanimate shells to become fleshed out works of art to encourage a dialogue amongst visitors and their friends.
TEXT: Camilla Russell
IMAGES: Courtesy of K11 MUSEA
The relationship between an artist and a benefactor can be seen as building blocks on how to create a shared vision and artistic goal. The most famous commissioned artwork is undoubtedly Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City, tasked by Pope Julius II and completed between 1508 and 1512. Fast forward a few centuries, another highly iconic public work of art is the late American artist Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, the original of which was commissioned for New York City in 1970, and since its creation became so immensely popular it has not only been reproduced for public spaces 50 times over, but translated into numerous languages and displayed in various cities worldwide.
Turning our eyes to Hong Kong to the recently unveiled Victoria Dockside and K11 MUSEA—the world’s first cultural-retail destination—we begin to see first hand the value a benefactor-commissioned work of art can have for enriching the local community at large when placed in a public space. In pursuing his vision to bring art to the community, Adrian Cheng, Founder of K11 Group, has worked closely with his team over the last ten years not only to acquire artworks to amass a collection (much of which is exhibited on various occasions for public enjoyment), but also actively collaborating with many local and international artists to commission artworks that share in this vision. Oftentimes one of the challenges faced by art commissioned for public spaces is that it must pay respect to the chorus of creative voices that it represents, be it the artist, benefactor, or both. With this in mind, Cheng and his team are always consciously work closely with the artists to ensure this is met.
Furthermore, there is a certain type of respect for the greater environment that comes into play when placing art into public spaces. This creative symbiosis is very evident within the layout and design of K11 MUSEA where artworks blend seamlessly together with the architecture and vertical garden to create a unified and aesthetical whole.
Notable commissioned artworks in K11 MUSEA include Parrots of Five Colors (2018) by Zhang Enli, Hong Kong artist Adrian Wong’s Untitled Street Sign (Mongkok) (2018), and Mongolian artist Nabuqi’s Plaza (2019). While Plaza marks the first collaboration for Nabuqi between the artist and Cheng, both Zhang and Wong have worked closely with Cheng and his team for many years, with their partnership evolving from artist and benefactor to mentor and friend.
Inspired by ancient Chinese teachings that highlight the necessary balance of the five elements (water, air, earth, fire, and metal), Zhang’s Parrots of Five Colors seeks human interaction to fully activate the installation. It is important to remember the roles that people have with public artworks. This installation relies on human interaction to be fully appreciated as a work of art. To better understand this artistic synergy of its various elements, including Zhang’s hand-painted dome-shaped ceiling and golden birds encircling above, guests are invited to rest on the specially designed couch to take a moment and observe their surroundings and the traffic of people passing by around them.
Wong’s Untitled Street Sign (Mongkok) is a bright pink and gold LED sign that plays with audience expectations—it calls forth images of old Chinatown, albeit a version of Chinatown that populated Orientalist stereotypes from the 1950s and 60s. This particular light installation was part of the artist’s solo exhibition “The Tiger Returns to the Mountain” that was hosted by K11 Art Foundation in Hong Kong in 2017. Wong’s body of works from that exhibition pay tongue-in-cheek homage to the iconic medicinal balm, as well as the Tiger Balm amusement parks which closed down in Hong Kong in 2004 but are still operating in Singapore.
Akin with Zhang’s Parrots of Five Colors, Nabuqi’s Plaza is a site-specific outdoor installation that requires people to engage with the artwork. Comprised of painted aluminum stools in the shape of houses placed upon a green patch of grass, Plaza addresses human relationships, and the importance of community, for a plaza is a public space where people gather together. Similar to Jonathan Swift’s 1726 prose satire, Gulliver’s Travels—where giants roamed freely—visitors to Nabuqi’s installation will question their role with this art piece—are they bystanders or part of the landscape?
Therein lies the beauty and artistic genius of these art installations, for they invite strangers to come together in a foreign setting, and hopefully afterwards leave as familiars or as friends. Public art connects individuals together and similar to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the original LOVE sculpture, Parrots of Five Colors, Plaza, and Untitled Street Sign (Mongkok) are just a few of the ingredients needed to build a community founded on artistic appreciation and respect.
The artworks by Zhang Enli, Adrian Wong, and Nabuqi, are only a few notable mentions that make up more than 40 artworks on display throughout K11 MUSEA. Within landscape urban design the relationship between a commissioned artwork and the natural environment is just as important as the physical object that is placed there. Public artworks need human interaction to transcend from their inanimate shells to become fleshed out works of art to encourage a dialogue amongst visitors and their friends. This is how a community is developed and how it evolves.