The Learned Terra Cotta parades CityU

Regina Lau

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Some 160 pottery figures make their way to CityU, 6 September to 17 October. They parade through the entrance to the AcademicBuilding, grace the
University Circle
, and “speak” with the CityU community. “In a way, the sculptures resemble staff and students on campus,” said Ms Solan Chiu, the artist who has brought the pottery figures to life.


The daughter of a Lingnan-style artist in southern China, Solan grew up in Hong Kong and learned Chinese calligraphy, brushwork and seal engraving from an early age. She also spent a few years of her childhood in Macao, where she was exposed to Western arts such as watercolour, oil painting and sculptures. In the 1990s, she moved to  New Zealand where  she focused on the art of ceramics. She developed a distinctive style of her own, blending her Chinese upbringing with the unique cultural influence of the Kiwi country.


Her ceramic works have been exhibited widely in Hong Kong, Macao and New Zealand. Her last exhibition, “Solan’s Clay Road”, held at  the Auckland Museum in November 2003, was officially opened by New Zealand's Prime Minister Ms Helen Clark. Many of Solan's pieces are collected by organizations worldwide; among them are the World Bank Group Headquarters in WashingtonD.C. and theMacao Museum of Art.


In her latest solo exhibition, “The Learned Terra Cotta”, held at CityU Gallery and the University Circle, 6 September to 17 October, as one of CityU’s 20th anniversary highlights, Solan features some 40 sets of her pottery works. Some works are making their first appearance, such as the Crimson City teaware suite, and The Learned Parade -- the stunning centerpiece of the exhibition spanning the University campus from the eastern entrance (adjacent to Festival Walk) to the University Circle at the north-eastern exit.


Socrates and his followers


“It is a parade of Socrates and his followers,” said Solan, “Indeed, anyone who is open-minded and has a passion for learning will identify with the parade.” When Solan first saw the
University Circle
at CityU, she knew instinctively that she had found the perfect stage for her work The Learned Parade. It was the summer of 2003 and she was led to visit the University by Professor Ng Sik-hung, Head of the Department of Applied Social Studies. Professor Ng asked Solan to showcase her works at CityU after he saw her  exhibition held at the Visual Art Centre in Hong Kong. “I want more colleagues and students to learn about the achievements that a local Chinese artist has made in the New Zealand,” said Professor Ng, “ A cultural event like this will be a memorable highlight for the University's 20th Anniversary, too.”


For Solan, it was a timely encounter. At that time she was still working on The Learned Parade. Current affairs of Hong Kong prompted her to reflect upon the idea of freedom. When she was confused, she would find enlightenment in the words of great philosophers and scholars such as Confucius, Plato and Socrates—who inspired the pottery parade. And then, a contemporary scholar introduced her to a venue that gave full expression to her artistic venture. “CityU also impresses me as a vibrant and liberal institution that is very much a part of the city,” she said. “That goes well with my idea of connecting with the audience.”


A dialogue with the audience 


Solan maintains that works of art are lifeless if they are separated from people. She insists on an “open” display in which the audience can almost touch the pottery, despite the risk of damage involved. The parade figures are erected to a level conducive to face-to-face communication with the audience. “I hope to establish a dialogue with the audience; to interact with them” she said.


So, when staff and students stop for a while on their way to look at the pottery figures on campus, they are not merely onlookers: they have become part of this interactive masterpiece.  

(Please click the more photos icon on the right to view other works by Solan and the official opening of "The Learned Terra Cotta".)


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