Tuesday, May 24, 2011

FRESH AIR 2011 IN ENGLAND; GARDEN SCULPTURES

kee@fswmag.com

FRESH AIR 2011


Literally install a breath of fresh air in your garden with wacky, wonky and wonderful works of weather-proof art at UK’s Fresh Air 2011 from 19 June to 10 July!

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This bunch of colorful resin bananas is not your idea of the usual garden decor

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These look like some mutations or evolutionary mistakes but are inanimate and harmless though they might scare Granny

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These other-worldly blooms could have come straight from the fantasy gardens of the planet Pandora in 'Avatar'

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Ditto for these glass pods resembling some intergalactic seeds

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Tuck into these spoon-like garden sculptures!


Many Malaysians enjoy pottering in their gardens and some flaunt magnificent gardens but planting sculptural art is almost alien. Most amateur gardeners are happy looking after flowering plants but few consider investing in outdoor art literally planted amid the bushes or lawn.

Many are amenable to koi ponds, cascading waterfalls over manmade rocks and the occasional stone gnome, flamingo or frog. The more adventurous might build a pergola, pavilion or ‘wakaf’ (wall-less hut) with fond visions of afternoon tea or romantic midnight supper before our sweltering heat and midnight mosquitoes banish such notions. An avid gardener on a high floor condo will boast water features like miniature waterfall or fountain with spinning balls.

In Europe, life-sized marble statues of gods, goddesses or busts of heroes were once practically compulsory while extravagant structures serving little purpose were called ‘follies’ which entered our vocabulary to became ‘folly’ or foible!

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A blue face is more amenable to conservatives

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A romantic couple on cowback

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Spectacular flowers that bloom perennially with no maintenance!

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A modern take on the Three Graces

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A windvane that tells no direction?

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Bring a touch of ancient Grecian/Roman ruin to your garden

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A contemporary water feature

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There---you and your better half on display for posterity

Malaysians appear to be averse to such theatrics though I have seen some grottoes with statues of Kuan Yin, Buddha and Hindu deities. Still, the time has come for avant garde gardeners to consider sculptural art made for private gardens though a few public parks have made tentative steps. Explains an expatriate, “Malaysia is a modern society but sculptures seem alien to the national psyche. There are no grand fountains with water spouting from statues of maidens or animals like dolphins. So far the only public sculptures I have seen are Tugu Negara or National Monument and the nearby ASEAN Sculpture Garden.”

These two are the most visible and high profile openair works of art in a city suffering from a dearth of big commissions or eye catching installations. Tugu Negara’s 15 metre bronze statues of triumphant soldiers stepping on dead communists are a tribute to the nation’s armed forces while ASEAN Sculpture Garden flaunt 6 works from ASEAN masters.

Another example is the whale and dolphin fountain at KLCC Park near the kids’ wading pool and playground. Wisma Selangor Dredging has ‘The Wave’ by Abdul Multhalib Musa while Taman Wawasan (Heritage Garden) in front of Public Bank on Jalan Sultan Sulaiman is among the first effort by banks in supporting local craftsmen. Opened in 1993, the three main sculptures salute Vision 2020.

Le Meridien’s lobby has the colourful glass ‘Symphony of Light’ while KL Hilton has wall sculptures by Abdul Multhalib Musa. The luxury condo One KL boasts ‘Infinite’ in its lobby, a stunning wall installation by Baet Yeok Kuan consisting of 288 silver drops of water of various sizes but this is not open to the public.

As scantily clad figures or provocative works are out of the question, abstracts and non-representational forms seem the only option. So perhaps we should take a non-controvcersial leaf from Fresh Air 2011, Britain’s leading outdoor contemporary sculpture show, to be held at Quenington Old Rectory in Gloucestershire from 19 June to 10 July 2011.

Held every two years, the coming Fresh Air 2011 will celebrate its 10th show in two decades. Its main appeal is the setting which is the 5 acre garden of Lucy and David Abel Smith in the picturesque Cotswolds, long famed for its quintessential English countryside. The couple’s garden has everything going for such an exhibition as it comes with its own river, pool and stream amid lush vegetation and matured trees.

“Fresh Air 2011 aims to promote and sell works by local, national and international artists using an incredible range of medium, from ceramics, pottery, wood, bronze, resin, willow, metal and glass,” explains publicist Iona Sale of Iona PR. “Even more astonishing are textiles as few associate fabrics with landscape but these have been specially treated to be weather-proof! They will not fade or shred by normal winds.

“This year, 103 artists are participating and 45 are new to Fresh Air. Young, emerging sculptors will show their works alongside established artists. Many think ‘art’ and ‘expensive’ are synonymous but our prices start from L20 (RM 100) to L 20,000 (RM 100,000) though two are priced around L 60,000 (RM 300,000).

“Within the framework of the garden and river, practically every form of weather-proof art will be displayed to provoke, amuse, titillate and surprise the visitor.”

These works are not static either. Though not programmed to move like robots at intervals, some installations come with sound while many wonderfully worked glass and multi-media objects change colour according to the time, light and weather.

Among the funkier offerings this year will be sound pattern water pools where the water’s surface resonates and produces ripples based on the energy of sound, a video pinboard and even a knitted bridge!

While most will last decades, a few might have to be put out to pasture after a year or two. They are more ephemeral but nothing in nature lasts forever and such items are understandably lower priced. The white flowers by Claudia Bogna might might dissipate since they are made of plastic bags! Ditto for the colourful plants of steel and velvet.

Do not expect these sculptural works to blend beautifully and naturally with your garden--- they stand out like sentinels of artistic creation or, depending on your mood, like a sore thumb! But therein lies their beauty!

Take John Creed’s ‘Roll Over’. It consists of 7 inter-related units which resemble giant spoons stuck into the ground. Made of weather proof stainless steel, they stand 60 by 80 by 200cm and should remind you of dinner after you finish pottering your plot.

Avril Edward’s ‘Quixotic Flora’ are made of found objects and mixed media and looked like they could have come straight from ‘Avatar’ and you half expect the petals to close and open menacingly. The ‘Contour Spheres’ by Colin Hawkins resemble transparent footballs but do not kick them! Nestling among your lawn or lallang, they could be giant bird’s eggs from another world.

If you prefer to ship home something practical, consider garden furniture but not the 18th and 19th century pastiches seen in Victorian gardens! A cast glass table by Colin Reid is in the form of a huge tropical leaf which is just perfect for a Malaysian garden. Euan Cunningham’s table is shaped like a stainless steel plate and spoon while a chair by Ben Barrell mimicks like a fin.

Every exhibitor has to donate a working sketch or model of their displayed item which will be sold to those under 18 for L10 (RM 50) to L60 (RM 300) to encourage youngsters to collect original works of art. So bring your kids!

FRESH AIR 2011 FROM 19 JUNE TO 10 JULY. L2.50 (RM 12.50) FOR ADULT, CHILDREN FREE. QUENINGTON OLD RECTORY, CIRENCESTER, GLOUCESTERSHIRE, UK. Tel; +44 1285 750 358

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