Gormley’s ‘alien invasion’ looms large over Hong Kong, sparks suicide calls

Occasionally obscured by mist and low cloud, shadowy human figures loom from the tops of Hong Kong skyscrapers causing curiosity and consternation in the streets below. It could be a scene from a science fiction film – in fact it is the arrival of sculptor

Billed as Hong Kong’s largest public art project, the exhibition features 31 sculptures of the human form – all modelled on Gormley’s 188cm (6ft 2in) frame – 27 of which are made of fibreglass and have been placed on rooftops of key buildings such as City Hall, the General Post Office and Queensway Government Offices, as well as privately owned towers.

Antony Gormley, Event Horizon, Hong Kong

The remaining four are made of cast iron – weighing around 630kg (1390lb) – and are positioned at ground level at iconic spots such as Hong Kong Park and Statue Square.

Some have said the figures conjure thoughts of an “alien invasion”, others that they radiate a benevolent force; while a few find them alarming.

– Suicide taboo –

So far, there have been four calls to the police from worried onlookers who feared the figures were people about to jump to their deaths; and there has been some public criticism they are inappropriate for a city where around half of the 900 people who commit suicide each year do so by leaping from skyscrapers.

Antony Gormley, Event Horizon, Hong Kong

“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 realise this is not a living person,” Gormley concedes but says 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 being talked about more openly.

The project was delayed by a year after a key sponsor, HongKong Land,withdrew its support following the suicide of a JP Morgan trader, who jumped to his death from a building it owned. New partners for the exhibition had to be found.

There was a bigger panic when Gormley first launched the project in London in 2008 – then 35 calls were made to the emergency services within the first hour of the first sculpture being erected.

– ‘Look up’ –

Hong Kong’s fears have been more muted – though this may be in part because the smartphone obsessed populace rarely look away from their screens as they beetle about the city.

“This project is an invitation to look up. What an amazing thing it is to look up in Hong Kong,” the sculptor says, but he later admits that the installation of one figure above a main thoroughfare in Central district, complete with camera crew, failed to provoke interest from passers-by.

He agrees there is a chance that people here will see the sculptures first on their social networks, having strolled past them, unnoticed, on the street.

Antony Gormley, Event Horizon, Hong Kong

“Perhaps Hong Kong is inoculated against this kind of public art. Perhaps it is going to be more Instagram than substantial encounter,” he adds.

This is not a thrilling prospect for a man who says he creates sculpture to “reinforce first hand experiences” but Gormley concedes there is positive potential for social media to collect beyond the original scope of an exhibition.

He cites his 2009 One & Other project, which invited 2,400 people, to each spend an hour occupying the empty fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square – the entire project was digitised by the British Library and is now available online for anyone to revisit.

The 65-year-old, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II last year, is arguably the UK’s best known modern sculptor, famed for his works interpreting the human form including the Angel of the North, a steel behemoth with a wingspan of 54 metres, and Fields for the British Isles, made up of 40,000 miniature terracotta figures.

– ‘Guardian angels’-

By his own admission – he has had a diverse life. He was raised as a devout Roman Catholic and, although his faith has faded, he still peppers his speech with religious imagery, referring to how “man cannot live on bread alone” when discussing the impact of corporate greed on ordinary workers, and describing his figures as “guardian angels: benign, but watching over us”.

Educated at Ampleforth College before going on to Cambridge, he then spent two years in South Asia, living on the streets in Kolkata for a brief period. He returned to England and attended art college, before squatting for seven years in London’s Kings Cross, where he still has a studio.

Gormley is incredibly learned – at home discussing Plato as he is neuroscience – but is surprisingly self-effacing. He says of his 1994 Turner Prize for “Fields of the British Isles”: “I had no more right to win it than any of the others. I felt it was a cruel thing… applying the rules of racing to a form of human endeavour that is not particularly interested in rewards.”

Gormley says he – and arguably all artists – are driven by the same motivation as those who painted the prehistoric caves in Rouffignac, Altamira and Chauvet, adding that “the primary drive for art is about exploring or expressing life”.

Event Horizon Hong Kong officially launches today and the installations will remain in place until May 18. It is being run in partnership with the British Council and the K11 Art Foundation. There will be a educational outreach programme in conjunction with the project.

Occasionally obscured by mist and low cloud, shadowy human figures loom from the tops of Hong Kong skyscrapers causing curiosity and consternation in the streets below. It could be a scene from a science fiction film – in fact it is the arrival of sculptor Antony Gormley’s Event Horizon project.

Billed as Hong Kong’s largest public art project, the exhibition features 31 sculptures of the human form – all modelled on Gormley’s 188cm (6ft 2in) frame – 27 of which are made of fibreglass and have been placed on rooftops of key buildings such as City Hall, the General Post Office and Queensway Government Offices, as well as privately owned towers.

Antony Gormley, Event Horizon, Hong Kong

The remaining four are made of cast iron – weighing around 630kg (1390lb) – and are positioned at ground level at iconic spots such as Hong Kong Park and Statue Square.

Some have said the figures conjure thoughts of an “alien invasion”, others that they radiate a benevolent force; while a few find them alarming.

– Suicide taboo –

So far, there have been four calls to the police from worried onlookers who feared the figures were people about to jump to their deaths; and there has been some public criticism they are inappropriate for a city where around half of the 900 people who commit suicide each year do so by leaping from skyscrapers.

Antony Gormley, Event Horizon, Hong Kong

“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 realise this is not a living person,” Gormley concedes but says 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 being talked about more openly.

The project was delayed by a year after a key sponsor, HongKong Land,withdrew its support following the suicide of a JP Morgan trader, who jumped to his death from a building it owned. New partners for the exhibition had to be found.

There was a bigger panic when Gormley first launched the project in London in 2008 – then 35 calls were made to the emergency services within the first hour of the first sculpture being erected.

– ‘Look up’ –

Hong Kong’s fears have been more muted – though this may be in part because the smartphone obsessed populace rarely look away from their screens as they beetle about the city.

“This project is an invitation to look up. What an amazing thing it is to look up in Hong Kong,” the sculptor says, but he later admits that the installation of one figure above a main thoroughfare in Central district, complete with camera crew, failed to provoke interest from passers-by.

He agrees there is a chance that people here will see the sculptures first on their social networks, having strolled past them, unnoticed, on the street.

Antony Gormley, Event Horizon, Hong Kong

“Perhaps Hong Kong is inoculated against this kind of public art. Perhaps it is going to be more Instagram than substantial encounter,” he adds.

This is not a thrilling prospect for a man who says he creates sculpture to “reinforce first hand experiences” but Gormley concedes there is positive potential for social media to collect beyond the original scope of an exhibition.

He cites his 2009 One & Other project, which invited 2,400 people, to each spend an hour occupying the empty fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square – the entire project was digitised by the British Library and is now available online for anyone to revisit.

The 65-year-old, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II last year, is arguably the UK’s best known modern sculptor, famed for his works interpreting the human form including the Angel of the North, a steel behemoth with a wingspan of 54 metres, and Fields for the British Isles, made up of 40,000 miniature terracotta figures.

– ‘Guardian angels’-

By his own admission – he has had a diverse life. He was raised as a devout Roman Catholic and, although his faith has faded, he still peppers his speech with religious imagery, referring to how “man cannot live on bread alone” when discussing the impact of corporate greed on ordinary workers, and describing his figures as “guardian angels: benign, but watching over us”.

Educated at Ampleforth College before going on to Cambridge, he then spent two years in South Asia, living on the streets in Kolkata for a brief period. He returned to England and attended art college, before squatting for seven years in London’s Kings Cross, where he still has a studio.

Gormley is incredibly learned – at home discussing Plato as he is neuroscience – but is surprisingly self-effacing. He says of his 1994 Turner Prize for “Fields of the British Isles”: “I had no more right to win it than any of the others. I felt it was a cruel thing… applying the rules of racing to a form of human endeavour that is not particularly interested in rewards.”

Gormley says he – and arguably all artists – are driven by the same motivation as those who painted the prehistoric caves in Rouffignac, Altamira and Chauvet, adding that “the primary drive for art is about exploring or expressing life”.

Event Horizon Hong Kong officially launches today and the installations will remain in place until May 18. It is being run in partnership with the British Council and the K11 Art Foundation. There will be a educational outreach programme in conjunction with the project.

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