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The World’s Largest Urban Sculpture Park: A Guide
Think China, think sculpture.
Actually, sculpture might not be the first thing that comes into your mind when you think of China, but it belies the fact that China has a rich sculptural heritage dating back over 7000 years. Of course, China’s rich cultural traditions are a part of its enduring mystique and popularity throughout the world and sculpture plays a substantial role in this.
If you think you couldn’t be interested in Chinese sculpture think again, you probably already are, you just didn’t realise it. From Xi’an’s 6000 strong terracotta army and Leshan’s 71 meter tall Buddha through to the modern day ice festivals in coldest Harbin, sculpture has allied itself with some of the most awe-inspiring sights that China has to offer the traveller.
So if you find yourself in Changchun, why not take time out from the bustling city and check out the contemporary flavour of sculpture in China. Come with me and take a walk on the artier side of life!
[Image: International flags outside the park]
Sculpture in the city
Nestled in the southern suburbs of Changchun is the world’s largest urban sculpture park. The park covers 90 beautifully landscaped hectares and is also home to a large indoor sculpture gallery. There’s a large lake that spreads in a wide undulating arc across the centre of the park and is punctuated by 4 white concrete waterfalls that step out narrowly into the blue.
A pool of fountains lies a little in front of the lake. At certain times during the day the fountains will come alive and dance in intricate patterns to the sounds of classical music. There are great white sail-like canvasses strung up around the fountains to protect onlookers from the heat of the sun.
[Image: Lake and waterfall]
Sculpture in the park
Entering the park takes you onto a vast circular stone terrace and looking diagonally into the distance there is a great white column of stone that presides over the park like a watchtower. A path leads from the circular terrace across the lake and up a grand flight of stairs to the sculpture itself.
3 beautiful female figures adorn the tower, the top most figure holding aloft a dove. Beneath the statue is another terraced area, lavished in marble-like stone. Here, circling the main column of stone, are a series of sculptures of couples dancing, singing and making music. They represent the variation in cultures from 5 different continents.
In the following sections I will take you on a tour of the park pointing out some of my favourite sculptures along the way. Enjoy.
[Image: Towering sculpture against the sky]
Sculpture in the park: Vigour by Wang Hong Dong, Changchun, China
The best way to see this park is by using your feet, although you can also hop onto one of the frequent electric vehicles that run along the perimeter. They provide guided talks in Chinese but only cover the edges of the park accessible by road. If, like me, your Mandarin isn’t up to this level, and you want to see as many sculptures as you can, I suggest you go by foot and explore.
Paths proliferate throughout the park and it becomes a huge maze of winding routes and stepping-stones. The sculptures themselves, large and small, are scattered everywhere and it seems that no matter which way you turn, there is another path and another piece of art to see.
One of the most visually impressive sculptures is entitled Vigour. It consists of a giant fist that appeared to be punching through a sheet of metal. It is eye-catching and full of movement and strength.
[Image: Vigour by Wang Hong Dong, Changchun, China]
Sculpture in the park: Friendship Above All, Bharat Bhushan, India
With over 350 individual works by 296 sculptors representing 130 different countries, it’s a truly international collection. Cultures as distant and diverse as the Maya, Eskimo and Maori are represented and every conceivable material seems to have been showcased. There’s such variety of form, texture and design that it truly is a feast for the senses.
My favourite sculpture in the park is called Friendship Above All and is a larger-than-life depiction of 2 Indian friends. I wonder if they are in love ? The sculpture is set alone in the park with a backdrop of trees and grass and it seems as though I have stumbled across a secret meeting. Each figure holds a gift behind their back. I love their feet, which are giant-sized but perfectly formed. The girl has a bracelet around her ankle and a ring on her toe. I don’t know that I can fully understand the meaning but it made me want to cry.
[Image: Friendship Above All, Bharat Bhushan, India]
Sculpture in the park: The Unseen Helper, Winshow M Crai, Guyana
The willow trees and great swathes of multi-coloured cosmos form a soft summery edge that hides and complements the myriad sculptures. It really feels like walking in a dream world; a fantasy land of oversized figures and strange creatures. An international flavour of culture, mythology and consciousness; creations to delight and disturb, startle and soothe; they will make you feel challenged and humble and alive.
I love this sculpture, The Unseen Helper. The way the figure carrying the heavy sack seems so burdened that they might be melting, the drips of sweat and the down-looking face. Then the almost invisible helper, made from metal rods and so tall and strong effortlessly lifts the load. This small kindness leaves me feeling full of hope.
[Image: The Unseen Helper, Winshow M Crai, Guyana]
Sculpture in the Gallery
I visited the park in mid-August on a day filled with sunshine and temperatures soaring into the 30s. Even the plentiful trees and water couldn’t keep me from a mid-afternoon escape into the air-conditioned coolness of the gallery. The gallery building itself is a striking example of modern architecture and sits not unlike a giant work of art upon the land.
It’s a complex of pale concrete, glass and functionless protuberances that combine in a mixture of curves and straight edges to form a series of huge exhibition halls. Inside are numerous collections grouped by artist or theme and when I visited the exhibition began with an extensive collection of bronze busts that sat in the half-light seemingly eerily alive with their disembodied heads.
Many of the rooms are small and filled with light, some containing the casts of many of the larger pieces of work on display in the grounds and others containing original works by artists from all over the world.
On the ground floor is a large exhibition of 500 pieces of African Makonde Art that consists of towering totem-like sculptures carved from wood. The windowless hall is dimly lit from above with spotlights picking out the carvings, so that even the smallest detail can be appreciated. The Chinese couple that have established the collection have devoted their lives to this one tribe and its unique art.
[Image: Section of the gallery building]
Sculpture without borders
Changchun has been home to yearly International Symposiums on sculpture and new additions to the park commemorate this. The symposium that took place in 2004 on the theme of ‘Friendship.Love.Spring’ has its own plaque. That year 26 new works were admitted. The inscription proudly points to the borderless nature of art, some of the artists whose work is featured are from countries that have no diplomatic ties with China.
I loved this place and spent the whole day here exploring, relaxing and soaking up the combined beauty of art and nature. I am filled with admiration for the forward-thinking that the very existence of this park represents and it’s great to find here it in the north east of China.
Sculpture can ignore language and skin colour, religion and politics, culture and philosophy: gorgeous in colours, profound in implications.
[Image: Mountains & River, Liu Wei, China]
Information (August 2006)
English: Changchun World Sculpture Park
Pinyin: chang2 chun1 shi4 jie4 diao1 su4 gong1 yuan2
Catch the Z306 bus from the train station that will drop you off opposite the entrance for 1RMB.
Entrance to the park: 40RMB
Entrance to the gallery: 20RMB
I went to this park on a weekday in the middle of summer, there were hardly any other visitors!
Plenty of toilets and a small selection of food and drink is available from kiosks.
A small part of the site is still under construction at this time but it made no impact on the experience.
[Image: Awaiting Friends, Kamanda Ntumba D, The Congo]