From scrap to art

Apart from the shipyards scattered along the coast, there are very few traces of heavy industry left in Hong Kong. But now, the remnants of the city’s past has been reborn as something new.

American sculptor Carol Bove has brought her work – made entirely of scrap steel – to David Zwirner’s gallery in Central, marking her fourth solo presentation with the galleries and her first in Asia.

Running until December 14, the Ten Hours exhibition presents Bove’s new works from her ongoing series “collage sculptures,” which feature crushed and manipulated square steel tubes, painted in vibrant colors and woven around rusty shards of scrap metal and pedestals.

Giving an illusion that they are fabric, the sculptures draw the curious into contact to validate their impressions. This is the most iconic feature of her work – presenting a sharp contrast of strength and softness though they are entirely made from metal.

The exhibition is designed in a way that inspires viewers to reconsider space and its relationship to her works.

Bove used an open layout with natural light on the first floor of the gallery, which showcases a range of vibrant colorful works on pedestals of different heights, creating shifting visual perspectives.

The second floor of the gallery is split into two distinct spaces. In one of the spaces, surrounded by structures resembling Platonic solids, The Moon and the Yew Tree, painted in a gradient to rich yellow, perches above a monochrome grey pyramid.

Bove’s latest piece, Offenbach Barcarolle, inspired by Barcarolle: Belle nuit, o nuit d’amour, a famous melody of Jacques Offenbach’s final opera The Tales of Hoffmann, is displayed in the other space.

The shattered steel is reminiscent of Venice’s icy canals and the ravenous women who deceived Hoffman, while the rusty metal scraps and fiery orange ribbons of steel twist and wrap around each other, reflecting the romantic entanglement between Hoffman and the courtesan.

Aside from the sculptures themselves, the space is also covered in a chalky gray color. Standing in the gallery, a sense of unreality strikes in the midst of the heavy metals.

“I think it’s interesting how incidental the illusionism is,” Bove said, referring to the combination of her color selection and the use of force in her work.

“I think the use of color is not emotional but instead cerebral-feeling.

“Part of my intention is to approximate a palette that would make sense in a digital context,” she explained.

A wholly controlled atmosphere, these spaces simulate a place where we spend so much of our time – our digital screens – a theme Bove wanted to express.

The creation of the pieces involved using a hydraulic press to bend and arrange the tubes and using a chain-hoist system to close the bends. Throughout the labor-intensive process, she used her willpower and strength, exerting the power from her mind into the piece. However, this labor is invisible in the final work.

“These works contain a lot of force, but the force is very carefully and slowly applied,” said Bove.

“I haven’t gone out of my way to make it seem hard to generate these manipulations; in fact, I wanted them to look as if I did not use all available force so that the touch appears very light and soft,” she added.

The painstaking process of presenting these compelling prices requires patience, and the artist said she has improved her handling of the steel as she continues to manipulate it.

In fact, the 48-year-old mother of a son and a daughter is a petite and modestly dressed woman. She seems to be at odds with her hundred-kilogram sculptures, metal-crushing equipment and the old, high-ceiling abandoned brick factory that is now her studio in Brooklyn, New York.

But this impression changed when she started playing Barcarolle on her phone.

In the four minutes that the love duet played, Bove paced around and examined her creation as if the crowd did not exist, while her smoky eyes became deep, gutsy, rational, and filled with power.

“I would like to offer a point of entry for a viewer who finds the object completely inscrutable,” Bove said.

“The viewer has to move around to find the spots that make sense, and once you decide how to look at something, you can apply that to everything.

“I want the viewer to do something different with each work – have a different response to each thing.”

(This article was published at The Standard on November 8, 2019: Weekend Glitz: From scrap to art )

From scrap to art

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