River of Light Scintillates over Transforming Victoria Harbour
Recreational public spaces like parks and waterfronts provide essential open areas for any metropolis, not to mention those with a density as high as Hong Kong. Among the waterfront spaces around the world, the harbourfront at the heart of our city is especially precious. It offers not only reposeful promenades but also spectacular views we all miss under the pandemic. This summer, with the annual theme ‘transFORM’ as the finale of the 3-year creative tourism project, Design District Hong Kong (#ddHK) draws inspiration from Chinese gardens to turn the new harbourfront into an ‘open-air design district gallery’, transforming harbour side spaces spanning from Victoria Park through the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter to Central with remarkable design installations.
Among the 7 sets of transFORM installations scattered along Victoria Harbour, the commissioned work River of Light is probably the most limelight-stealing for its overwhelming scale and stunning effect. Composed of over 45,000 colourful streamers, the 700-square-metre kinetic sculpture flutters and shimmers above the Central Harbourfront Event Space day and night. It adds a dynamic yet tranquil presence to the bustling harbour, like the flowing water of traditional Chinese gardens.
US-based artist Patrick Shearn, creator of the internationally acclaimed ‘Skynet’ series
Specially created for #ddHK, River of Light is part of the internationally acclaimed ‘Skynet’ series created by US creative studio Poetic Kinetics and LA-based artist Patrick Shearn. We are pleased to chat with Shearn about his creative concept and process.
The Skynet Art series has impressed the world with its concept, scale and locations. How did it all start?
Shearn: I had been inspired by the way birds flock together and fish form and move in large schools. I wanted to see if I could recreate that sense of wonder I feel when I witness such amazing things.
The central band running through River of Light represents a river, which Shearn sees as pathways of life
What is the inspiration behind River of Light?
Shearn: Wind, rivers and time flow all around us. The central band running through this artwork represents a river, both as a natural border and a natural connector. Rivers are pathways of life, connecting generations together throughout history and connecting different parts of the planet across great distances. The force of a river is powerful and transforms landscapes over time. Water brings life, possibility and change. I hope that people experiencing River of Light will come away with a deeper sense of calm and an appreciation of the natural forces at play around us that we are oblivious to in our normal daily life.
I hope that people experiencing River of Light will come away with a deeper sense of calm and an appreciation of the natural forces at play around us that we are oblivious to in our normal daily life.
The Skynet series has brought excitement and transformation to numerous public spaces worldwide that are all very different. Where do you begin when you conceptualise a new project to make it specific to the place it belongs to?
Shearn: My imagination is triggered in the initial communication about the location. I jump onto Google Earth and study the location, looking for what kind of infrastructure exists to work with for design and rigging. I look closely at the local wind history, relative speeds and predominant direction during the time of year of the installation, etc. I design to anticipate how best to harness the power of the wind to create the most dynamic motion in the artwork.
How does River of Light made for Hong Kong differ from other Skynet projects? What was the biggest challenge?
Shearn: River of Light was different because of the pandemic. We were unable to travel for a site visit and because of the uncertainty, so we chose to design an installation that incorporated infrastructure that would be brought in specifically for this installation. We have a network of internationally certified riggers that we work with, and we were able to hire a local installation crew that is incredibly capable and train them in our process. We also took extra care in the rigging design to make sure that any potential unforeseen issues could be easily accommodated. I am pleased with the wonderful creative solutions we were able to come up with in the face of the pandemic.
River of Light is only on display until 15 June 2021
How do you think Covid-19 has changed our relationship with public spaces?
Shearn: Clearly Covid-19 has changed everything, likely for the duration of our lifetimes. It is so sad but also has made me even more aware of how important it is to get out and be social. Fortunately, the Skynet series like River of Light is social distancing friendly. We embrace open-air, open space environments that allow for many people to enjoy the experience safely.
We embrace open-air, open space environments that allow for many people to enjoy the experience safely.
#ddHK's out-of-the-box curatorial endeavours borrowed artistic techniques such as xushi (void and solid), juxtaposition, dichotomy and inclusio from Chinese landscape design to create River of Light and other transFORM installations as wide-ranging garden components. The exhibition elevates the experience of sauntering along the harbourfront to one akin to meandering through a traditional garden filled with poetry and rhythm. These delightful installations begin from 5 June 2021 onwards till early July – but the commissioned work River of Light is only available till 15 June 2021. Follow #ddHK's Facebook page and Instagram for more information and updates!