取締乏味的石屎高架道路 ∣ Replacing Barren Concrete Overpasses
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 12:08pm on 22nd April 2017
1. & 2. Installation view of Siah Armajani's exhibition at Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong
(Please scroll down for English version)
另外剛結束的，還有每年都在香港亮相的藝展Art Basel Hong Kong。這次展覽讓香港會議展覽中心擠滿了國際藝廊、腰纏萬貫的收藏家、喜歡窺探藝術人士和宣傳、銷售與市務大員等這些經常在高檔活動中出現出席的人士。就像突如其來的風暴一樣， Art Basel來也匆匆，去也匆匆，之後香港的藝壇節奏又回復正常。
黃竹坑的雷·藝廊現正舉行一個匯聚政治與藝術角度的精彩展覽，將開放至4月中。西阿．阿瑪雅尼(Siah Armajani )於1939年在伊朗德克蘭出生，1960年移居美國，離開當時由伊朗國王統治，政治上壓迫的國度。離開祖家的經驗，影響了阿瑪雅尼的思想和藝術。展覽涵蓋藝術家過去60年來的努力，參觀者可以欣賞到他的畫作、建築概念模型、雕塑和近期的紙上創作。
Translation from the original English by Aulina Chan.
Replacing Barren Concrete Overpasses
In Hong Kong’s political sphere, the Chief Executive election is now over. It was a ‘done deal’, ‘fixed’ for another five years. The new administration is planning its succession to government right now. It will be more of the same with the addition of a few new faces in the Executive Council, but the same old faces in the back-rooms doing the deals and networking amongst themselves as they have done for generations. The general public can shrug and look on – but, at crucial moments, can still raise their voices at the obvious wrongs and mistakes that inevitably will happen when government like this gets too cosy and complacent.
Also, just ended, is the little storm that arrives every year: Art Basel Hong Kong, the yearly art fair that fills the Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Centre with international art galleries and rich collectors, art voyeurs and the promoters, sales and marketing hangers-on that always mix at any high-monied event. And like a sudden storm, Art Basel disappears as suddenly as it came, and Hong Kong’s art rhythms return to normal.
Combining aspects of the political and art is an impressive exhibition now on at Rossi & Rossi art gallery in Wong Chuk Hang, running until mid-May. Siah Armajani was born in 1939 in Tehran, Iran and moved to the USA in 1960 – leaving behind the politically repressive Shah regime then in power in Iran; an experience that has influenced his thinking and art. In this comprehensive exhibition are drawings, conceptual architectural models, sculpture and recent works on paper covering sixty years of work.
Armajani studied philosophy in Minnesota and settled, setting-up a studio, in the supportive art environment of Minneapolis. His interests cover Persian poetry, philosophy - particularly political ideas of free will and democracy - and a strong appreciation for American vernacular architecture. These have been translated into objects and architectural spaces, often in homage to literary, philosophical and political figures and displayed in public places. His artwork is both sculptural and practical. He says, “I am interested in the nobility of usefulness. My intention is to build open, available, useful, common, public gathering places – gathering places that are neighbourly.”
He designs and then makes models from wood, steel, plastic and other materials; these are often later built for a range of practical uses: elevated walkways in the form of bridges and stairways, and pavilions, gazebos and shelters; places to meet, socialize or for solitary meditation. In this exhibition, a cross-section of models are on display, complemented by drawings. Armajani’s models however are not just theoretical ideas. His architectural renditions are practical forms, finished with a touch of artistic naïveté: the work of the non-architect, but an artist wishing his forms realized and of practical use for people. His ideas are rooted in the real word: with the hope that engineers and contractors build these ideas into a large-scale form.
And, amazingly, most of his architectural ideas are built! His fantastic bridges cross busy roadways and his quiet gazebos are placed in parks around the USA and in Europe. That is inspirational. His ideas are translated into public art that is both practical and artistic. It is spiritually uplifting to see Armajani’s public art. His work often fills spaces that are bleak – there is nothing more depressing than climbing a steep stairway to reach a barren concrete overpass to cross a road with speeding, noisy traffic below. A person, the human condition itself, is reduced to insignificance in such a harsh environment. It is no wonder that such places are chosen by some in which to end their lives. But Armajani’s stairways and bridges are an extension of good living and good planning – it says: someone cares, even if that ‘someone’ is an anonymous government official working in the name of a faceless government department.
Our built environment mirrors those that build it.
With just a little care, and appreciation of art and creative thinking, Hong Kong’s hostile concrete spaces can be loosened up to offer the physical proof of a brighter future. We too can follow Armajani’s inspiration: can’t we build some wacky, fantastic and unconventional pedestrian overpass bridges to replace the dreadful, concrete, soul-destroying eyesores we now have?
This essay was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 1 April 2017.