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Sculpting A City

The word "modern" usually is associated with high-rises, factories and the bustling life.

But with stones, plaster, stainless steel or alloys, this capital city of Northeast China's Jilin Province has been trying to demonstrate that "modern" means more.

Urban sculptures and public art also are considered a hallmark of a city's modern maturity. The recent Fifth China Changchun International Sculpture Symposium reflects the city's best wishes for tomorrow.

With a theme of "Friendship, Peace and Spring," the symposium drew the attention of many top artists. About 415 artists from 75 countries and regions submitted 1,662 sculpture proposals. Of them, 89 sculptors were selected to create their sculptures during the symposium.

"The theme is universal, the sense that everybody wants those things regardless of your nationality, religion and belief," said Liu Tianfu, vice-director of the Changchun Municipal Guiding Committee for Urban Sculpture Construction.

The artists have different styles and cultural backgrounds, but they all had their solid work ethic in common.

The resulting 103 works touch upon a wide range of topics, from the simple emotion of humankind to Chinese, Mayan and Eskimo cultures and to people's best wishes for the future.

"Most of the works are elegant, magnificent, deep and thought-provoking, either abstract or concrete, expressionistic or realistic," said Jeff Nathanson, executive director of the International Sculpture Centre.

Chen Lianfu, a Shenyang-based sculptor, said he cherishes the Chinese traditional culture most.

In his work, "Fertile Soil," he chose a naked woman as his subject. With her hair worn in a bun, the woman sits on a platform looking into the distance comfortably and peacefully.

"This woman symbolizes the Mother Earth in Chinese culture," Chen said. "She gives birth to all things."

Chen, a 20-year sculpting veteran, said Chinese artists must take more inspiration from their own country's long history and rich cultural resources instead of imitating the West.

Laury Dizengremel, a French sculptor residing in Britain, presented her impressions of contemporary Chinese society through a foreigner's eyes.

One side of her sculpture, "East Meets West," features several carvings of Chinese faces. Dizengremel put these faces in a Chinese yinyang structure to represent East and West, the sun and moon and male and female. Yinyang, in Chinese culture, means two opposing principles that must co-exist in nature.

On the other side of the sculpture, she put three more faces, that of herself, another sculptor and a girl. Above these faces, she carved a message in English and Chinese that reads: "On the day when we can fully trust each other, there will be peace on Earth. - L. Ron Hubbard."

"The overall message is that trust among people is the driving factor that will bring us the lasting peace we need in the world," Dizengremel said. "I chose Hubbard's quotation because he was a great humanitarian and philosopher who first visited China when he was 17, travelled the world thereafter and offered a great many insights into the minds of people."

Many artists chose to make sculptures that reflect the spirit and life of people in their hometowns.

Chen Bin, a sculptor from Macao, explained that he tried in his effort to show praise delight of every Chinese person after Macao returned to China in 1999.

The work, "Affection," features carved faces of a mother and a boy. On the other side, he had many sculptors at the symposium sign their names.

"The relationship between Macao and China is just like that of a child and his mother. After a long separation, Macao finally returned to the embrace of his motherland, and I hope all people in the world can remember this," he said.

Iraqi sculptor Khalid Izzat won praise by depicting a mother's sad eyes in his "Mother and Child."

"From the mother's sorrowful eyes to the baby in her arms, viewers understand that war has caused a lot of suffering to the ordinary people, who desire peace," said Li Xue, a sophomore from the Jilin University of Technology.

The city of Changchun expects that the new sculptures will help the city catch up on its public art development, said Changchun Mayor Li Shu, who is the director of the Changchun Municipal Guiding Committee for Urban Sculpture Construction.

"These sculptures have transformed the city into a place full of beautiful modern sculptures," said Serguei Koubassov, a professor from Lebin Fine Arts Academy in Russia.

"Sculpture is not only an art form reflecting the contemporary era but eternal art whose value grows with the passage of time," he said.

The first urban sculpture appeared in Changchun in the 1930s, but only a few of them, documenting Japan's shameful occupation, exist today.

The city's first emblematic sculpture, "Monument to the Martyrs of the Soviet Army," was built by the Soviets in 1945 to commemorate Soviet soldiers who died in the war against Japan.

Sculpture construction in the city saw a slow progress after the foundation of New China in 1949 and came to a halt during the 1966-76 "cultural revolution."

The city's urban sculpture construction developed rapidly after the 1980s, but it has lagged behind cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Qingdao.

"Outdoor sculpture has become a sign of the city's image and cultural taste. It's the soul of the city and enlivens the environment," said Zhang Yonghao, vice-director of Shanghai Municipal Guiding Committee for Urban Sculpture Construction and a sculpture professor at Shanghai University.

To narrow the gap, the city initiated the annual sculpture symposium in 1997 and planned to hold it for five years. In that time, they've collected 282 masterpieces.

These works will be housed in the city's World Sculpture Park, a 90-hectare spread to be finished by the end of the year.

Although the sculpture symposium will not go on past this year, the city plans to continue efforts to make its urban sculpture programme a well-organized part of city life, Li said.

"Art in the city is for the viewers, for the urban-dwellers and even for its animals," Dizengremel stressed. "It should give people pleasure and serve as food for thought."

(China Daily October 19,2001)

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