Living Out Big Dreams

Capital Tower's newest art acquisition embodies the pursuit of hopes and ideals while grounded in reality

Issue: Jun 2011

Big Dreams No. 4 (2011)
Big Dreams No. 4 (2011) at Capital Tower is a stainless steel sculpture of a rotund figurine mid-flight, buoyed by tiny wings and ideals

The moment you walk into the lobby of Capital Tower in Singapore, your eyes can't help but be drawn to a towering, buoyant, and exuberant stainless steel sculpture of a chubby, cherubim-like figure. Arms outstretched in mid-flight, this balloon-like person seems to be lifted by nothing more than disproportionately tiny wings and a prayer.

As part of CapitaLand's ongoing efforts to encourage cultural exchange through art, it commissioned this piece of work called Big Dreams No. 4 (2011). The artist behind it is Gao Xiaowu (高孝午). His works personify the city-dweller's pursuit of his dreams and ideals which is so often bound by reality. At once playful and poignant, his comic-inspired, people-centric creation was favoured because it fits so well with CapitaLand's credo of "Building People".

Gao is a 35-year old Chinese sculptor from Fujian province. His hefty, balloon-shaped people poised with outstretched arms in exuberant free-fall have won him international attention. This graduate of the Xiamen Art Academy and the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing has had exhibitions in his home country as well as in Taiwan, Korean, Singapore, France and the US. INSIDE finds out the inspirations behind his works.

Chinese artist Gao Xiaowu
Chinese artist Gao Xiaowu with a miniature clay model of Big Dreams No. 4

INSIDE: Could you please share with us where the inspiration for Big Dreams No. 4 (2011) came from? What do you hope to communicate through this sculpture?

GAO: The original name of this work is "Urban Dreams". The motivation for my creation came from the many years I spent moving around many cities. The urbanisation phenomenon has evoked strong feelings in me about life.

This work expresses the ambiguous and contradictory relationship between "reality" and "dreams" in the urban setting. City life is very rich and colourful. There are various temptations which people are unable to resist. They will continuously pursue these temptations resulting in their original ambitions becoming complicated and illusory. Ideals are no longer pure ideals. They become pressures in life. The more you want to possess or achieve, the less likely you will realise these ideals.

高: 这作品的原名叫<城市梦想>,创作的动力是我多年来奔波在多个城市,城市现象带给了我无比强烈的生活感触。作品表达"现实"与"梦想"之间在城市中即暧昧又矛盾的关系。 城市生活很丰富多彩,各种诱惑让人无法抗拒地不断追求。原本美好的追求变得复杂而虚幻,理想不再是单纯的理想,转变成困惑生活的种种压力。想得到的越多,实现的可能性就越小。

INSIDE: What were the challenges in creating this piece of work? How did you overcome them and how long did you take to complete the sculpture?

GAO: I have been thinking about the phenomenon of urbanisation for many years. My intent for creation has always been very clear. My biggest challenge was - which approach should I use to accurately present this concept of "Urban Dreams"? As this is a very wide topic, it is very restrictive to express using a sculpture. It has to be a real visible image. Therefore, there was a need to generalise and sort out various life roles in the city and its social phenomena before extracting the most classic parts for this artwork. It is only through such analysis that the topic can be expressed relatively thoroughly and accurately through my creation.

The creation of this series of work took me about three years. It then coincided with Beijing's rapid development. Buildings were being demolished everywhere and people were being relocated. My workshop was always not in a stable state. I had to move house often. I guess it was perhaps due to the so-called "ideals". This further invigorated me to complete these works. The models for these works was made when Beijing was at its coldest. Furthermore, there was no heating in my workshop. I would sit by the bed and make little models using mud. Right after I finished, the models would become frozen! I was in good spirits then and felt that retaining the mental strength was the most important. I did not find the work tough. I was very innocent then and my sole intent was to express through my works the strongest feelings which urbanisation evoked in me. I would be especially pleased if I completed the works as per my message intent.

The difficulties faced in the process of making the works were not insurmountable. Just as in life, if you live out the true side of yourself, you will be able to succeed in your pursuit of your ideals.

高: 多年来一直在思考城市生活现象,创作的意图一直很明确。最大的挑战是:应该用什么具体方式准确呈现"城市梦想"这一概念?因为,这话题很大,而用雕塑表达很受限制,必须是实实在在的可视形象。所以,需要对城市里的各种生活角色和社会现象做概括整理, 再抽出最经典的部分,才能相对彻底、相对到位地表达清楚这个话题。

这系列作品的创作大概用了三年时间。那时,正好是北京的飞速发展时期,到处拆迁。我的工作室一直处于不稳定状态,经常搬家。也许是为了所谓的"理想"吧?!这更激发了我做这作品的欲望。作品的雏形是在北京最冷的时候做的,而且工作室没有暖气。我坐在床边用泥巴捏了一个小稿,做完就结冰了!那时的心态很好,觉得保留精神力量是最重要的,也没觉的艰苦。很单纯,就是一心想把城市生活带给我最强烈的感触用作品表达出来,就特别满足了!

没有什么难以逾越的困难,做作品和生活都一样。做出最真实的自己就行了。

Chinese artist Gao Xiaowu
From the clay to the plaster mold to the final product, Big Dreams No.4 was part of a series of work by Chinese artist Gao Xiaowu that took three years to actualise into its form

INSIDE: The recurring theme for the majority of your works is to remind people that although it is impossible to escape reality, one should nevertheless not give up hope. Why would you choose this theme? We are very curious particularly since you have already realised the dream of many artists; that you are able to lead a successful "artistic life"?

GAO: I feel that we should live our lives first and foremost with a very good mentality. The individual is small and unable to change others, let alone the society. However, we can handle ourselves well. Everyone has ideals and hopes. But most importantly, we must learn to face reality!

People are actually very contradictory creatures. Humans are continuously seeking development but actually, what we want to possess is simply too much. Can the process and results of this "urge to possess" truly bring us happiness? This is worth thinking about. As we live, particularly in big bustling cities, we may easily become numb. I talk about this topic through my works to allow different people to understand.

高: 我觉得人活着,首先需要有一个很好的心态。个人很渺小,无法改变别人,更无法改变社会,但可以把握好自己。每个人都会有理想和希望,但最重要的是学会面对现实!

人其实是很矛盾的动物。人类总是不断地求发展,其实就是想拥有的太多。这种"想拥有"的过程和结果,是否真的能给自身带来快乐?这很值得思考,人活着,特别是在繁华的大都市里活着,很容易麻木。我把这话题用作品说出来,让不同的人去理解。

INSIDE: You use different materials for your sculptures. How do you decide which to use?

GAO: The material selection for each work would be determined based on its theme and content. Sometimes, it may also be decided based on the space and environment where it is to be placed. Basically, I would do the "shape" first and choose the materials after that. I would imagine that there are many materials for me to use. I would not choose a material simply for the sake of it. To explain this, I would have to do a specific analysis for each piece of work.

高:作品的选材要根据作品的题材和内容来定,有时候也根据所放的空间和环境而定.我基本上是先做出形"后,再选材料。想象有很多材料能为我所用,而不是为材料而材料。这要具体作品具体分析,才能说清楚。

INSIDE: Where do you generally draw your inspiration from?

GAO: My inspiration comes from life. Actually, inspiration is too mysterious. Importantly, it is understanding life!

高: 灵感从生活中来。其实,灵感太神秘,重要的是生活感悟!

INSIDE: Your work is reminiscent of Fernando Botero's "fat figures". Has there ever been any comparison made?

GAO: Very rarely do people make comparisons. I quite like Fernando Botero's works. However, I like even more the pottery figurines of ancient China. There are quite a few artists making fat figures and their "fat" manners are all different. Most importantly, we should see how each artist perfectly expresses the message through the external form of his works.

高: 很少有人比较,费尔南多波特罗的作品我挺喜欢,但我更喜欢中国古代的陶俑。做胖子的艺术家挺多,而且"胖"法各不一样。重要的是看这艺术家如何通过作品的外在形式把内容表达完美。

INSIDE: How do you keep the creative juices flowing? Have you ever experienced a mental block in creating an artwork?

GAO: I would constantly remind myself not to live a jaded life. I would then be able to maintain the sensitivity to social issues and the environment around me.

There are many things that the current state of society leads us to talk about and express through our works. So far, I have not encountered any "mental block". But I am frequently reflecting: What I should create and what need not be created?

高: 不断提醒自己不要麻木地活着,就会对身边的环境和社会问题保持有必要的敏感。

这个社会,让我们想说的话很多,想做作品也很多。目前为止,还没出现"断电"。但经常调整:什么该做,什么没必要做。

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