“Cute!” is the first impression that many may have of Chinese artist Gao Xiao Wu’s sculptures. Sculptures of his City Dreams series, for example. You see balloon-like “babies” flying in the air, chubby and happy. You may immediately fall in love with these fun babies.
From far, a group of Gao’s flying figures can even take on the appearance of a flight of birds. Such is the case of a set of five City Dreams sculptures – made of bronze and coated in red - specially acquired by CapitaLand Singapore (CLS) for its recently completed residential project The Interlace. Floating above green shrubberies and contrasting against the white background of The Interlace’s unique architecture, Gao’s creations, though small in scale, stand out from the surroundings and quickly become an eye catcher. This is exactly the intention of the CLS design management team: Gao’s work, just like the works of other sculptors commissioned for the project, is a focal point giving identity to the space in which it is placed, helping even in way-finding.
Chew On It
CapitaLand first acquired a work from Gao’s City Dream series in 2011. Big Dream No 4, a polished stainless steel “flying baby” of about 2.3 m high is placed in the lobby of Capital Tower. At this scale and of this height, the sculpture engages its viewers in an entirely different way – the flying effect is no longer pronounced and the viewers can also find their own distorted images reflected on its surface. Are they now part of the sculpture? Is the big dream their big dreams? One may go beyond just uttering “cute!” and start to think.
Born in 1976 in Fujian China and now living in Beijing, Gao studied sculpture both in Xiamen Art Academy and Central Academy of Fine Arts Beijing. I remember one incident that tells us something about his carefree character. Gao was invited to the inauguration ceremony of Raffles City Chengdu – CapitaLand’s flagship mixed development project in that city. The dress code was shirt and tie. I bumped into him just before the guests were to assemble to be transported to the venue. Gao seemed extremely awkward in his white long-sleeved shirt and dark colour tie. He told me he never put on such attire and asked to be excused from shirt and tie. I certainly did not have the “authority” to waive the dress code but nevertheless told him to “be himself”. Gao quickly disappeared and few minutes later reappeared in a black shirt, not tucked in, with sleeves rolled up and front not fully buttoned up. He was himself again.
Feast for the Eyes
It must be this kind of spontaneity and non-conformance to rules that has contributed to Gao’s creative output. Look carefully at the flying figures of the City Dream series and you will find that they are not all babies. There are women and men too and the men are all dressed in suits with ties or bow ties – the garb that the artist would certainly not like to put on. What make them look like babies are their roundness and their shortened limbs. Also, they all wear a kind of standard smiles that make them seem perpetually happy. Gao is likely taking a satirical attitude towards such “happiness”. One only needs to look at the tiny wings of the ballooned figures to get the hint: how can such tiny parts carry the much larger whole to their dreams?
What dreams? Gao Xiao Wu wrote, “as a youth in the village, my dreams were of the city; as an adult in the city, my dreams are of the village”. He is missing “the ‘naivety’ that we are all born with”, untainted by conventions. And each of us can decide on what our own cities dreams are: wealth, fame, power, a wonderful career, a happy family, a good social cause... the choices are endless. May our hopefully not-too-tiny wings fly us all to our dreams.
This article is contributed by CapitaLand Chief of Art Management, Francis Wong Hooe Wai