Jens Galschiot - Banevaenget 22 - DK-5270 Odense N - Denmark
Tel. (+45) 6618 4058 - Fax (+45) 6618 4158
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org - Info/photos: http://www.aidoh.dk
Odense, 28 May 1998
Open Letter to the Recreation Committee in Hong Kong
Through the European newspapers and tv-stations I've got to know that the City Hall in Hong Kong has decided to ban the exhibition of my sculpture the Pillar of Shame in a gallery in a public park. According to AP, the City Hall majority argues that the 6-4 decision is due to 'the low artistic quality' of the sculpture.
The majority is making a pitiable attempt to disguise their lack of guts for defying the old men's regime in Beijing. They dare not touch with a barge pole a controversial memorial for the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown. They shrink from giving public space to a sculpture expressing an intransigent denouncement of one of the most outrageous events in China's recent history.
By their decision the Town Hall majority have made themselves ridiculous to the world's newspaper readers and television viewers. Even a child is capable of seeing through the hypocritical assertion that 'political considerations have no part in the decision'.
It would suit the majority better if they expressed an overt support of the Tiananmen crackdown. A felony of these dimensions does not give leave to neutrality or evasiveness.
The recreation committee will meet soon to decide wether the Pillar can be installed at another site in one of the city parks. I hope the committee, also if they personally do not appreciate expressionistic art, will take the opportunity of showing an open-minded and democratic attitude by giving space to a piece of art symbolizing basic values shared by the vast majority of Hong Kong citizens.
As a contribution to the debate about the artistic quality of the Pillar of Shame, I enclose an essay by a Danish art historian, highlighting some interesting aspects of the relations between symbolism an aestheticism of my art.
More information is available by:
Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China
9/F Good Hope Building - 618 Nathan Road - Kowloon - Hong Kong - Contact person: Mr Albert Ho
Tel. (852) 2522 7721/ 2782 6111 - Fax (852) 2868 2797
E-mail: email@example.com - http://www.alliance.org.hk/
Photos and information are available on Galschiot's homepage: http://www.aidoh.dk
Meeting With the Chaotic
- Reflections of Art History
Hannah Haansbæk Rasmussen
As Jens Galschiot chose to send his sculpture the Pillar of Shame to Hong Kong for the anniversary of the massacre on the students in the Tiananmen Square 4th June 1989, the sculpture became a symbol of the struggle of the student and democratic movements for human rights in China. The sculpture was meant to support the Union of Democratic Parties, and the Pillar of Shame is still - through its undeniable presence - a conspicuous representation of repressive acts of the government.
The aesthetic entity of the artwork was, of course, less in focus of the media during the immediate press covering of the celebration of 4th June. However, the endeavour to visualize the sculpture bereft of its symbolism provides an opportunity to understand the Pillar of Shame as a genuine work of art with a specific expressiveness and communicative strength. This does not, on the other hand, release us from the recurrent issue of political art, namely whether it really is art at all.
Political art is haunted by the difficulty of not being taken seriously as genuine art. Less in the general public than among the professionals, a fact that essentially cannot surprise, as the political artist often chooses to focus more on political issues than on aesthetics. The Danish author Ulrikka S. Gernes who was present at the celebrations in Hong Kong realises this inherent problem of political art and pronounces the Pillar of Shame an object. She believes it is problematic to separate sculpture and metaphor.
"The Pillar of Shame is a curious sculpture - more idea than artwork - an object that for good or bad has assumed an existence of its own. After a dramatic night this strange sculpture, produced at Odense, has been defined by circumstances on the other side of the Earth and has met with its meaning as a metaphor for the struggle of the democratic movement and the student organisations for free speech and human rights - in Hong Kong and China as well. To see the artwork free of this metaphor is to separate symbol and art, and when the symbol is removed the question is, how much remains of art. But that issue appears not to come up till the goal of the democratic movement is achieved."
Art as a means, a process or artwork as something final are some of the questions that have been up in the art debate since the realistic period in the second half of the 18th century. Our century has witnessed numerous attempts to break down the barriers and to create a connection between art and reality. The surrealists took on the unconscious, the cobra painters moved beyond the canvas, at first they painted on the frame, later on walls and ceilings or they made use of already manufactured materials made for everyday life. The political art is related to these endeavours, but often to an extent where the aesthetical is announced to be secondary.
Galschiot was represented at the World Exhibition in
Seville 1992 with an enormous installation of 22 steel shields all with human faces
breaking through them. This installation offers a new key to Galschiot's work, if the
breaking through shields can be regarded as a central metaphor. If Galschiot's total
oeuvre and his latest lead the Pillar of Shame in particular is considered from a global
view, there is a firm will to reach into something essential behind the mere appearance.
This way Galschiot breaks our shields while passing through them such experiences that we
are disinclined to deal with. The Pillar of Shame expresses such painful experiences as
the naked existence and exposure of man.
The Pillar of Shame is not experimentation held together with much contemporary art. It appears like a traditional sculpture on a plinth without the fractionated identity of an installation artwork. It towers high above the beholder and so it does not directly meet the world of experience. Moreover, the Pillar of Shame through its imperishable material refers to earlier sculpture, far from the exploration of the aesthetics of decay that is the issue of parts of contemporary art.
Chaos of our time caused by the breakdown of the ideologies and the great epics is often met by the visual art with irony and disapproval. Galschiot, however, unblushingly plunges right into an uncompromising attempt to describe the human pain in its generality.
The Pillar of Shame is composed of writhing human bodies,
leaning on each other, stretching towards each other and towards the beholder. The bodies
grow out from the same substance from which they never part. All the bodies are joined
together by a common root, stretching from the bottom, through the tense bodies towards
the top where it swells into the head of one single figure.
The figures exhibit elements of classical artwork with the ideal of the clearly defined body which, however, is immediately broken down by the vexed faces with their gaping mouths, which convert them into grotesque shapes. Arms and legs slowly fade into abstraction which again melt into other figures, and it appears that the material holds powers which are not to be broken, but will build up to a movement and a possibility.
The movement, the melting links into a theme of growth which can be seen, among others, in the architecture of the Catalan artist Antoni Gaudí. The movement inherent in the theme of growth embraces the chaotic - grandly perceived. The expressive human figure in itself establishes a dialogue with the beholder, and thereby brings about the chaotic that the existential conditions of mankind is comprised of. So says Kierkegaard while expressing "The Pain Necessary".
Much more than aesthetics is at stake. The Pillar of Shame represents a Pain Necessary which is otherwise so often sought eliminated from daily life. This way art can heal or purify. Aristotles connected this living through of tragedy with purification, in Greek "Katharsis". That is what the Pillar of Shame could be said to open up for by means of its plastic expressiveness. Galschiot wants us to react, not so much on the sculpture as on the absurdity wherever it is met with in everyday life and in life itself.