An idea on a mountain and pioneering art
It was a godsent opportunity for Robin Wong when she made up her mind to establish Art Pioneer Studio.
"I always say I've done thorough market research before I got started, talked to many specialists and I believe in the potential of and demand for public art in China's future urban development," Wong told Shanghai Daily in her office.
"But to be honest, before I got my hands on feasibility studies, I came up with the idea on a mountain."
Spending more than two decades in high-profile real estate development projects in international metropolis, in 2016 she decided to take a rest, and went for a meditation trip with several friends on Lingjiu Mountain in Taiwan.
In the first couple of days, she had great difficulties sitting still, until the fifth day.
"I can just sit there for 50 minutes, with no hard feelings," she recalled, adding that was when things got clear for her.
"What I want to do for the rest of my life is something I am passionate about, and what a happiness if I can also make a profit from it!"
Back from Taiwan, she founded APS, aiming to present world-class art that can touch and connect to the public, and lead them into the exciting world of contemporary art.
Q: What inspired your interest in contemporary art?
A: It began with the project of the Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai, which to the last procedure, requires decoration of artworks. Once I got started, I realized how much fun there was with artworks. Architectural design has protocols and rules that must be met, while art is totally another story. With unlimited creativity, it will very often surprise you, and touch your heart. Since then, which was more than a decade ago, I started visiting art events overseas, such as Art Setouchi in Japan, Kassel Documenta and Skulptur Projekte Münster in Germany. I was stunned by how artworks can amplify and uplift the construction and its surroundings. That planted a seed. When the whole project came to the finishing up, I was fully devoted to the selection of artworks, visiting artists' studios overseas.
Q: How do you think art affects architecture?
A: I believe architects who know nothing about art can never outdo people like Jean Nouvel. When working on the design for the Pudong Art Museum, Nouvel drew inspiration from the classic "fourth dimension" (in "The Large Glass" by Marcel Duchamp). Thus, he was able to interpret his design ideas with a story of art. Most architectures are physical carriers, functionality coming ahead of beauty. However, with art added, it can be more. As an example that I've mentioned a dozen times: Teshima Art Museum made quite an impression on me. Co-designed by Ryue Nishizawa and Rei Naito, it is a mixture (of architecture and art). In the end, artists know better about art, and are keen to colors. Most of all, they are extremely free in spirit. (Joseph) Beuys once said that everyone can be an artist. Why? Because he believes a real human being shall have free thought. With basic training and free spirits, one can sure lend temperature and movingness to cold, rational architectures.
Q: What's the main purpose of APS?
A: We mainly focus on projects featuring tailor-made artworks, which thereby funded for the space (APSMUSEUM). We present exhibitions that the public can accept and feel related to, displaying artworks in a shopping mall that are usually seen in art museums. This is our pursuit – to do our utmost to get public art close to daily life. Unlike art shows in museums that are often more academic and critical, we'd like to showcase the positivity of public art, its human and touching side.
Q: When curating for the 2019 Shanghai Urban Space Art Season, how did you highlight the relationship between art and urban life?
A: The 2019 SUSAS was themed "Encounter" – the encounter between industrial civilization and contemporary art; Western art and Oriental art; between people; and urban renewal and historical buildings. The key for good public art is interaction and entertainment, both are no match for safety.
Among the proposals was one by Argentine artist Leandro Erlich. He'd like to make an art installation entitled "Upside Down" at the location of Yangpu Bridge, with four lanes of actual-sized light-weight models of cars hanging upside down the bridge. The proposal was mind-blowing, but was eventually vetoed for safety. Because once installed, it would affect the original bridge loading and bearing capacity, and jam the monitoring sensors.
For public art, it is quite tricky and strategic to locate the right position.
Q: What does public art mean to urban life?
A: I can give you two examples of how public art can comfort souls and relate to urban dwellers. Two artworks of the 2019 SUSAS became celebrity pieces, one of which featured a glass boat. The "Time Shipper" contains soils of Shanghai and inside, planted three magnolia trees. When it was almost done, the artist decided to redesign the lawn and made it curving. Although deeply upset by the rework, I later came to understand him. Once redone, the lawn became an attraction for seniors and children. We took a photo of this piece when the magnolia bloomed, which was later published in a Chinese media with the caption: "All flowers bloom in a warm spring." It precisely captured the moment of the post-COVID-19 era. Another piece is called "One Year/10 Thousand Years." It is placed inside the renovated former soap factory. Featuring inverted cones inspired by stalagmites, the art piece unexpectedly turned the rough cement space into a meditation room. It strikingly contrasted with the adjacent flashy coffee shop, and yet, blended with it. People would go for a coffee there, and come over to sit for a while in calm, and go back there for a simple meal.
Q: What would you want to explore in future in public art?
A: Apart from comforting and relieving souls, I believe art can bring us more. For example in the Teshima Art Museum, you can feel of the power of nature. Inside, one will grow sensitive and get to feel something valuable that normally cannot be felt. That's what I want to achieve. Our current exhibition showcases the communication between technology and art. Geographically, the museum has been extended, thanks to real-time transmitting technology. At the end of this month, the images of APSMUSEUM will be transmitted simultaneously to the "Lonely Library" in Qinhuangdao, to get people reconnected. Also, the show reflects on how technology reconstruct people's life today. Just as artist Qiu Anqiong pointed out in his silhouette animation, Internet perhaps make our life more convenient, it also "constructs a weightless world," in which we are gradually losing the track of the time.