Taiwanese artist Ju Ming (朱銘) is best known for his Tai Chi sculptures, with their instantly recognizable blocky forms, but he also has a more colorful and whimsical side which comes to the fore in his Living World series.
Sculptures from Ju Ming’s Tai Chi Series
What I love about Ju Ming’s Tai Chi sculptures is the sense of balance between the heavy, blocky, rock-like shapes and the clear, light and graceful sense of the implied movement. And what better subject is there for focusing on balance and movement than the gentle, flowing martial art of T’ai chi ch’üan? It’s a perfect match!
There are two scupltures by Ju Ming outside Exchange Square in Hong Kong: Single Whip Dip (1986) and the smaller Tai Chi (1991).
Ju Ming was born in 1938 in Miaoli County in Japanese-occupied Taiwan and started his career as a sculptor at the age of 15 when he started work as an apprentice to Lee Chin-chuan, a master woodcarver at the Temple of the Empress of Heaven. After finishing his apprenticeship and opening his own studio, he became an apprentice to another sculptor, Yang Yu-yu, who was also the one who advised Ju Ming to take up Tai chi as a way of developing mental and physical discipline. Ju Ming did follow this advice and he was inspired to incorporate the martial art’s forms into his artwork. He has continued developing this series over the years by working with different materials and techniques.
Ju Ming’s sculpture Taichi: Sparring (Harmony), which is outside the Bank of China building in Hong Kong, is just what the title says: two tai chi practitioners sparring. Most people have seen basic Tai Chi routines; however, there are also more advanced routines involving swords and staffs as well as a two-person training routine called pushing hands (推手). Moving past that, advanced Tai Chi practitioners may practise a kind of martial arts sparring that also involves strikes, blocks and grappling techniques. This is the kind of training shown in the sculpture.
The sculpture was made from bronze using a technique that involved creating molds from carved styrofoam pieces. The end result is a sculpture that looks like it has been roughly hewn from slabs or rock.
Ju Ming: Sculptures from the Living World Series
The sculptures in the Living World series are snapshots of daily life that range from a boring wait on a bench to a pleasant family outing to an adventurous skydive. His works invites viewers to participate. Passers-by will often get into the scene—jumping into a queue of umbrella wielding commuters or joining a formation of sculpted soldiers.
These sculptures were part (the outdoor part) of an exhibition of Ju Ming’s work—Sculpting the Living World—that was held at the Hong Kong Art Museum in 2014. The exhibition featured works on loan from the the Ju Ming Museum in Jinshan, just outside of Taipei.
Ju Ming began work on the Living World series in the 1980 and has continued to the present.The sculpture shown below is entitled Lining Up and depicts people queuing up on a chilly, rainy day. The different postures, clothing and actions of the people in the queue can reveal a lot about each individual.
For example, the man in beige, who is wearing what appears to be a matching Chinese-style trousers and jacket set, seems quite stylish and traditional. With his scarf, hat and umbrella, he has taken care to protect himself from the elements. He has edged up as close as possible to to the man in front of him to get a surreptitious look at the newspaper.
The exhibition also featured bronze sculptures of three rows of soldiers standing at ease. Though at first glance, they seem very similar, the soldiers are all individuals—they are of different heights, have different face shapes, seem to be of different races and there are variations in their uniform, equipment and rifles.
These soldiers are part of a much larger set of over three hundred sculptures located at the the Ju Ming Museum. The whole set of soldiers, which represent different eras and branches of the armed forces, was created during a four-year period.
Here are a gymnast on the high bar and a motocross enthusiast.
In the following photo, a family investigates a sculpture entitled The Whole Table—a group of people are sharing a moment together with a representation of a group of people sharing a moment together.
For the last sculpture on this page, we are back to the blocky, rock-like style of the Tai chi sculptures, but the theme here is familial love.
The pride and love of the father is clearly visible even though his face consists of just two tiny indentations for eyes and a line for a mouth. So much emotion is expressed in just the posture and that simple expression.
Ju Ming has an intuitive style of sculpting and is deeply influenced by the material he is working with. In a video interview with RTHK (the video is embedded below), he states:
Every material has its own characteristic, an irreplaceable characteristic. When I do wood carving, after a while it will raise all sorts of questions telling me how to carve it. But then one day, it will stop telling me these sorts of things. so I change and work with another material such as stainless steel, and it tells me different kinds of stories.These are the things that I need to absorb. You have to know that what the stainless steel is telling you is different from what the wood is telling me. What wood can do, stainless steel cannot. This is what I am after.The Works: Ju Ming – The Living World
This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries.
Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:
Ju Ming Museum Page: www.juming.org.tw
- What do you think of the works in the Tai Chi series?
- What do you think of the works in the Living World series?
- Why is it important for an artist to experiment with different materials and techniques?
Create two artworks. For the first one, paint, draw, sketch, photograph or sculpt a scene that captures a moment in modern life. Focus on the people in that scene. For the second artwork, try to capture the same scene using a different medium. What effect did the choice of medium have on your creative process?
~ photos and text by longzijun
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