May 03 2013

Inflatable Art in Hong Kong

by Noelle Bodick

An improbably large cockroach, suckling pig and pile of excrement are among the inflatable sculptures that arrived on Hong Kong’s West Kowloon waterfront last week. Welcome to the museum without walls where the future M+—due to open in 2017—has populated its construction site with temporary, vinyl art.

Bordering on the compressed bustle of the city, the show is a continuum of the street and appeals to the passerby in the same way as an amusement park or fair. The works, however, are not trivial in their intention or mild in their effect. A 16-meter high pile of feces by Paul McCarthy sits suggestively close to the ICC (International Commerce Center) Tower, while the symbol of Buddhist spirituality, a lotus flower, by Choi Jeong Hwa, has turned black, withering on the reclaimed promenade. Other works surfeit the viewer’s baser appetites and desires. Cao Fei enlarges a suckling pig, a traditional Chinese delicacy, to gross proportions. Across the park, a long lady, imagined by Tam Wai Ping, has fallen headfirst onto the waterfront. 

The seven outsized sculptures are a catchall of styles: comic, dark, monumental, banal—often all at once. At their best, the works—like Jeremy Deller’s bouncy replica of Stonehenge, a sacred monument cordoned off since 1977—consciously carve out public space in the densely packed and fiercely commercial city. 

Here’s a look at the opening day . . . 

After a fantastic fall, a cockroach and round-bottomed woman have landed headfirst on the promenade.

TAM WAI PING, Falling into the Mundane World, 2013.

On Wednesday, Paul McCarthy’s Complex Pile was still inflated. The next day, however, after a heavy rainstorm, the sculpture tore and collapsed into a shapeless pool of plastic.

PAUL MCCARTHY, Complex Pile, 2007.

Cao Fei swells a Chinese delicacy, a suckling pig—glazed, cherry-eyed and festooned with flowers—to a grotesque size. Inside, inflatable pork rinds are piled underneath the cathedral-like rib cage. House of Treasures feels like the strange meeting of a PETA campaign and funhouse. 

CAO FEI, House of Treasures, 2013.

CAO FEI, House of Treasures, 2013.

Jeremy Deller’s bouncy replica of Stonehenge invites visitors into the ancient British monument that is sealed off from public access. Here, an ex-pat approaches the plinths to enjoy the right denied him on his native soil. 

JEREMY DELLER, Sacrilege, 2012.

In front of the ICC Tower, a giant black lotus breathes life into the dull financial center . . . or else its life has been sucked dry by the commercial atmosphere.   

CHOI JEONG HWA, Emptiness is Form. Form is Emptiness., 2013.

At dawn, a congregation gathers under Tomás Saraceno’s gorgeous, iridescent form. Unaided by machine, the air is heated by a greenhouse effect that lifts the thin layers of foil off the ground. 

TOMÁS SARACENO, Poetic Cosmos of the Breath, 2007.

Noelle Bodick is assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific and is based in Hong Kong.