On July 15, with the theme of Friendship, Peace, and Spring, 80 sculptors from 52 countries began their work at the 2001 Changchun, China Sculpture Symposium. This year marked the fifth and final symposium for Changchun, a northern industrial city of seven million people. The city, after years of physical neglect, is rebuilding itself, block by block, and also constructing a sculpture park. It boasts the largest automobile works in China and is home to a major motion picture production facility. In a moment of inspired city development, the managers of the City Planning Bureau conceived of building a huge public sculpture park. Over the course of five years, the planning committee invited nearly 300 international and Chinese artists to come to a city work site to produce work for the new park. Working and living together in a hotel adjacent to the work site for 10 weeks each summer, they produced stone, steel, and bronze pieces. The fruit of this labor can be enjoyed (temporarily) in Shengli Park in Changchun until the new sculpture park at the outer edge of the city, opens in 2003.
Sculptors find commonality in their physical involvement with hard and resistant materials. A block of granite becomes a head or a family group. Lumps of clay become undulating bronze forms, and steel captures the essence of motion. In three large tents, a dozen figurative sculptors used clay to construct pieces, some nearly 12 feet tall. After three weeks of modeling, the clay was covered with straw-reinforced plaster molds-a method used thousands of years ago to produce the exquisite Chinese vessels we are so familiar with today. These sculptures were then cast in bronze, and, amazingly, they were ready for the September 9th closing ceremony. In an open area adjacent to the modeling tents, blocks of granite and marble were cut, split, and carved by sculptors and a crew of 200 Chinese assistants. The assistants were divided into smaller crews with specific skills and tasks: stone cutters, mold makers, armature fabricators. My piece and several others were constructed in workshops in Shenyang, a city 200 miles south that specializes in public art. I supplied a set of blueprints, generated from a computer program in New York, taken directly from a bronze maquette. The quality of the metal craft was exceptional and beyond anything I could do myself. These steel pieces also were in place for the closing ceremony.
While sculpture symposia allow sponsors to acquire new works of art, the real benefit is mostly intangible: the bringing together of artists who share ideas and feelings and enjoy a sense of collegiality. It is a time when competition and national differences are put aside.
For me, the only American representative, the symposium provided a unique perspective on how sculptors make and view their work. Much of each day I spent in conversation, often in highly accented English, with Russian, Hungarian, Mexican, Peruvian, and Slovenian artists (to name just a few) who freely talked about themselves, their countries, and what it means to be a sculptor. Communication was made easier by the young translators who accompanied us all day. One afternoon I listened as two sculptors spoke to each other using Russian, German, English, and Chinese. With hands and smiles, apparently nothing was lost in the round-robin translation, and the conversation ended with backslaps and handshakes. The poignancy and fundamental importance of this interchange was brought home to me in an unimaginable manner. I was to leave China on September 12th. I did not arrive at my home in New York, 10 blocks north of the World Trade Center, until September 16th. I can only dream of what the world would be like today if international relations were conducted in the same spirit as the interactions among the artists.
– Richard A. Heinrich