Here we are in Hong Kong again. We are up on the fourth floor in our little space in Hollywood Rd with the sounds of buses roaring by and children squealing in the gardens below, water always drip drip dripping from some overflowing pipe in the courtyard. A quiet moment actually, to reflect, as there is nothing to do just now.
So beautiful this life, touching the lives of people everywhere, led to where our work takes us. I guess that is true for most people considering work is such a big part of living. I love it though. Mike and I are naturally restless, so when an opportunity arises through our work, we take it, blown into the wind, unsure of where it will drop us. It always worried our poor parents because it seemed to them that we took life on like gamblers, risking everything for the dream; selling houses we had bought just to have an exhibition – its profits would pay for all the bronze founding that had to be done each time. When Jacob got into his school in Michigan we sold everything up, every possession we had to be near him, we got as far as Ireland, but it seemed only a hop and a jump compared to being back in Australia. Michigan didn’t suit him and soon we would be back together again, taking stock and then residing for months in the south of France, creating new work from all that bountiful colour that filled our souls to the brim. When we returned to Australia from that particular trip, we had nothing but four suitcases of clothes and more dreams and somehow we emerged from the dust again and built a beautiful glass house in the hills of central Victoria, a part of nature and the elements. But truly, the most wonderful dream has been Italy. How lucky are we to have been able to do it. It has settled us too, because I think it is here that our hearts lie, here and southern France, we never could agree, but both are kindred spirits.
As I am sitting here I am remembering our last glimpse of the Tuscan hills as we departed for the airport. Mists roiling in the valleys wrapping themselves around little hilltop villages, ethereally capturing renaissance cameos of bell towers and craggy pines. A far cry from China, one day later, in the back blocks of Pudong where we are casting some work at a foundry. Grey and tough, an almost colourless world, and yet the people are so lovely, so sweet and generous. China has really changed, especially in these big cities. The wealth is really apparent now, and you do not get the bargains you would expect, for instance the prices of foundry work is very similar to Italy and I know where I would prefer to be. A few days later we are in the south, checking out an art residency for next year at a university in Xiamen. More beautiful generous people and a leafy lovely city by the sea that we will enjoy staying in for a little while.
Now we are back in Hong Kong after setting up the Guardians in their new home in Australia and we suffer squiggles of excitement as we reach into the very near future and place ourselves by the kitchen fire in Pieve after we have walked miles in the cold wintry air, collecting pinecones and chestnuts from the forest floor.
Shanghai is such a crazy place. It is a huge city, the biggest in China. Its population is close to 20 million people. Taking a taxi across town is not easy and can take hours just negotiating all the road systems and sitting in endless traffic. We like it here though, as all the little areas within the city seem to create a sense of community.
On our arrival, we had the good fortune to stay with Mike’s niece and her husband who both work with Nike. Through their efforts, we were able to negotiate with a driver of a very comfortable Buick, to take us to two foundries for the following day. They were each on different sides of this massive city. It was to be a gargantuan expedition crossing that labyrinth of roads and traffic and then finding the foundries in tiny obscure areas in the industrial back blocks. The first one was out past the old Hongqiao Airport and the second one was out somewhere near the new Pudong airport.
We have done some work with the first foundry before. They are really lovely people and there was no problem with them shipping the work for us outside of China. However nobody speaks English and so all the translation was done through the generous good will of a Dutchman whose Taiwanese wife gets a lot of her sculptures cast there. It’s a big important foundry that does huge jobs. It’s nothing for them to do 20 metre sculptures and there is heaps of work for them in China. They model the work up from the maquette for the artists too if it is wanted. The foundry process is pretty good here even though a lot of the preliminary processes are basic, relying on lots of human labour rather than technique. The bronze is good quality; we used silicone bronze but there is a choice of other metals as well as the cheaper handmade-up bronze; the welding and chasing is fine, though it is best to be there when they are doing it. They can pour massive sizes at a time with their giant crucibles and this is a real plus as there are less seam lines. The wax room isn’t wonderful but the workers are pretty good at the cleaning up and sprewing of the waxes. The moulds are ok, they do the job, just not the most recent technology. They like to make a resin cast for sandcasting which they are really proficient at and they also do the lost wax method. The patination is ordinary, especially compared to the foundries we use in Pietrasanta, lots of reddy brown highly glossed sculptures, the green patinas are ok, just undeveloped. We were pretty fussy about the chasing and ended up doing the patination ourselves. Very sweet people to work with nevertheless, and they learn fast, its funny how you can get by mostly with sign language.
Michael and I stayed out here for several weeks at a time a couple of years ago, getting four big bronzes cast for Saudi Arabia. There is quite a respectable hotel around the corner with seriously hard Chinese beds and an attached restaurant. We are really out in the whoop whoops here, so we found ourselves under constant observation and interest from the local people. It was great in some ways. The streets were spotless, cleaners came along everyday and washed down the pavements including the rubbish bins, shining up all the stainless steel. The guys would walk along in pairs and threesomes with their shirts rolled up over their bellies and tucked up under their arms. And it was quiet as there was very little road noise with most of the traffic being electric motor bikes. Of a night there would be this old tinny music on the loudspeakers, put on in a little square and everyone would be out there dancing, it was all a bit random, girls dancing with girls, courtly old men with their tiny elegant wives gracefully circling the jostle. We had a great sense of delight in the feeling of the community being together. It wasn’t easy though. The food was pretty tough to get used to as there is very little that has been westernized out in the sticks and no matter how hard you try you can’t get anything without pork or some gristly thing in the middle of it all. One morning at breakfast we asked for their best coffee, it was very expensive. It arrived looking lethally strong and black with this fatty, creamy looking swirl in the centre. Mike stirred his and the swirly substance fell stringily from his spoon as he raised it. It was a raw egg in the coffee. It was a bit much for first thing in the morning so we left the hotel and went to the local grocer, buying yogurt and biscuits for brekky instead. So, here we are back again, and getting prices from Mr Liu for some large projects. He promises to email the results, and in the end the pricing is about the same as the next foundry we go to. It just becomes a matter of preference for their procedures. For interest sake, the name and address of this foundry is: Shanghai Guangyi Sculpture Casting Co. ltd, China. No 24 Xin Hunag Rd. Shanghai, PR China. Tel : 86-21-69581968 fax: 86-2169581969
After this foundry and a tour nearby of our friend’s immaculate studio in an industrial park, we wound our way back through the spiral of roads of Shanghai to the Pudong side. The next foundry, I found on the internet and they are linked in partnership to a foundry in Switzerland. I thought this association might be very good recommendation for the quality of workmanship and particularity. When we contacted them, we got a reply in english and it turns out that several people in the foundry speak english. Easy peasy. A lovely girl took us on a tour of the factory and everything was spotless and tidy and very organized. They use silicon bronze, which was our requirement for these jobs, but also brass and aluminium. All the materials are excellent quality and the engineering structures inside some of the large works were top quality stainless steel. The wax studio was immaculate. The mould making was a little old school, not as advanced as Italy, but good nonetheless, using silicon rubber. The patinas were better in this foundry. We had the maquettes of the sculptures we wanted to get cast in larger sizes and the girls in the office sat down and measured the sculptures using exact formulas, a system used by one of the foundries we use in Pietrasanta (Fonderie Versiliese), to get the exact amount of bronze in the piece. The formula gave an almost identical price to the one that Mr Liu gave, using just his eye and the years of experience to come up with. We felt really happy with this last foundry, probably because the workshops were so tidy, we could speak english without having a translator, and the quality was as good if not better than Mr Liu’s foundry. It just remains to be seen now, on more logistics involved with the projects whether we will go ahead this time with the project and with which foundry as both have a lot going for them. For interest, this last foundry is called: Sainteen and their website is www.chinaartcasting.com
It has been quite a challenge finding all our art materials while we have been here at the Yew Chung School. The first two weeks of the residency were spent tromping the streets of Mongkok and Wanchai in diabolical human traffic, feeling flayed alive at the end of every day, too tired to cook and too tired to sleep. But the wonderful thing about Hong Kong, is that if you are looking for tools, you will find street after street of tools and hardwares and if you are looking for art supplies, tiles, wood, marble, they too, are located in the same area, so once you find the street you then don’t have to go half way across town to find the competition.
Recently we have been looking for foundries in Guangzhou to cast the ‘Harvest’ series sculpture for the school. This time we had the school source the foundries from recommendations through some of our artist contacts and all we had to do was go to Guangzhou with a local interpreter and make an inspection to choose. Mostly, the foundries cast in brass, (they call it yellow bronze), and the ‘green’ bronze, they make themselves so is a little unpredictable. Nevertheless they are really experienced and do some massive artworks. The foundry we chose is huge, professional, highly organized and very clean. They cast a huge bronze sculpture of Bruce Lee by Cao Chong’en, 18 metres high for China. A smaller version of about 2.7 metres went to Hong Kong. We are definitely small fry here.
On our second trip over, after much negotiation on price, which is still continuing even after they have started the mold making, we hand carried my very fragile, delicate sculpture in tons of bubble wrap and bamboo sticks to keep the sculpture rigid, through the chaotic train stations, in and out of taxis, and millions of helping, well meaning hands, to the foundry. There we started the careful procedure of peeling and cutting through the layers of tape and plastic and attempting to control the eager help from the taxi driver, (who was very practical) and the foundry owner, (who couldn’t understand our fuss). We had a few small breaks in the plaster, easily fixable, which was amazing after such a journey.
Guangzhou is a devastating place. It is bleak. So grey. It kills our artist souls. Of course we have seen very little other than the taxi ride through the city and into the back blocks of the industrial areas, but this is really tough and you pass endless enterprises on the great highways selling massive empty sculptures of flying horses and giraffes and gladiators, but also anything else you can think of. Over it all is the dull leaden sky bruised by pollution, the trapped heat pulsating in a concrete desert below. The train station is bedlam and this time on our return home, there are no tickets back to Hong Kong. It is the time of the Guangzhou Trade Fair. Millions of people everywhere and even a hotel for the night, not a hopeful prospect. Our guide who had kindly stayed longer than he was paid for, gave us the helpful advice to take the local train to Shenzen, walk over the border and take the MTR home. This we did, first crammed in a giant hall in the Guangzhou station with thousands of others trying to get back to HK, thirsty, sweaty, waiting for our train call from the trains ten minutes apart, at each call, a huge surge exploding through the gates as they opened. Scary stuff. After a long trip home standing face to face in the carriage on hot swollen legs, home and bed was a wonderful place that very late night.
We are at the end of our stay, now, in Hong Kong and it is easier to move about as we know more. But perhaps it is knowing more that makes us reluctant to go out again into the mayhem to select the marble that needs to be selected, or the tiles, or the new tube of paint. Even making the crossing to Hong Kong Island, makes us stop for a second as we realize the consequences, the sheer exhaustion at the end of a day, all that human being confrontation and stomping along for miles underground on hard surfaces. It is perhaps what keeps the Kowloon side so separate to the Hong Kong island side – rarely the twain do meet. We understand…