Soft as Steel

The Cable Sculptures of Kang Muxiang

2018 / July

Ivan Chen /photos courtesy of Kang Muxiang Studio /tr. by Phil Newell

steel cable can bring the world together. Cables that have carried visitors from all over the globe to the top of Tai­pei 101 have been shaped by the hands of artist Kang Mu­xiang into forms that embody the supple strength of Taiwan’s spirit. Moreover, through the process of cleaning the cables, prison inmates have experienced hope for a new life. With worldwide exhibitions of his series “Rebirth: A Steel Cable Connecting the World,” Kang is not only bringing Taiwan closer to the world, he is also linking the hearts of his viewers with those of people in Taiwan.


His appearance bespeaks the man: the long gray hair, full snow-white beard, and bold, uninhibited look exactly match Kang Mu­xiang’s unyielding personality, indomitable yet gentle. It is his perseverance in his art and his concern for the environment that have enabled him to repeatedly break barriers and bring Taiwanese art onto the world stage.

A serendipitous American exhibition

“In 2017 I was invited to exhibit at the Montreux Biennale in Switzerland, where I met a local man who held onto my hand for a long time, saying he was very moved to see such great work.” Similar feedback from local people has continually occurred during Kang’s overseas exhibits. These works, made from steel cable retired from the high-speed elevators of the Tai­pei 101 building, have been a big hit with local governments, people in the arts, and the public in all the places they have been shown, from Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz to the Montreux Biennale to YIA Art Fair’s Paris Contemporary Art Show.

Following the retirement of a second batch of elev­ator cables from Tai­pei 101, Kang was invited by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee to try to translate his successful experience in Europe to the United States. With the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, and the Tai­pei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the US, he visited Barbara A. Blair, chairperson of New York’s Garment District Alliance. Blair was very moved by Kang’s sculptures, for no-one else anywhere in the world had yet used steel cables to sculpt such works. Beyond the environmental message of recycling the cables in this way, the combination of the strength of steel with the gentleness of the sculptures’ smooth, rounded forms was even more amazing.

To demonstrate its appreciation of Kang’s art, the Garment District Alliance brought forward the grand opening of the exhibit in the Garment District to May, so as to show seven works from Kang’s series “Rebirth: A Steel Cable Connecting the World” throughout the summer (May 17 through September 16, 2018). In October, in conjunction with TECRO’s celebration of the 130th anniversary of the historic Twin Oaks Estate in Washington, DC, Kang will donate one of the works on display, Twin Life, to the permanent collection at Twin Oaks, doing his bit for Taiwan’s public diplomacy.

The Worried Whale and Twin Life

Two new works in the “Rebirth” series are being premiered in New York: The Worried Whale and Twin Life.

The Worried Whale weighs 2.9 tons and is 2.7 meters tall. Its shape is intriguing, contrasting the whale’s body with an enormous head. “Taiwan is an island. Once a whale was stranded onshore, and when its body was opened up, it was found to be filled with garbage.” Conveying his impassioned plea and longing for peaceful coexistence with the ocean, Kang placed the whale “sitting” gazing into space, to express the question: In the end, is it the whale that causes us to worry, or is it mankind that causes the whale to worry? The work speaks volumes about the connections and dialogue between man on the one hand and the ocean and animals on the other.

The other new work, Twin Life, shows a symbiotic relationship of coexistence and mutual prosperity. Two lives are twisted together, symbolizing peace and harmony, and representing a blending together. Kang says, “I think it’s especially significant that this piece will be placed at Twin Oaks, for both Taiwan and the US need this kind of sharing and cooperation.” The sculpture weighs 3.7 tons and is 3.2 meters tall. Because it has so many convex and concave surfaces, and is made from a single length of cable, Kang not only faced a tremendous physical effort in making it, but every twist and turn was an extreme challenge. However, it is for this very reason that he achieved such depth and vitality in the work.

The deep transformation of rebirth

Elevator cables that are taken out of service at Tai­pei 101 must first undergo various processes like soaking in solvent to remove oil, and then rewashing. Besides carrying out these tasks himself, Kang also works with the minimum-security prison at Bade in Tao­yuan, using art to rebuild the inmates’ spirits.

“First I spoke to the prisoners to let them know that cleaning the cables is a meaningful activity, and to share with them the reactions I got during the Euro­pean shows.” Kang has found 18 prisoners to help him. He himself has to leave home between 6 and 7 a.m. to come to the prison to work with them, and can only leave once every­thing is finished at night. At first some of the prisoners complained that the soaking and washing process was too demanding, and they only wanted to do the latter stages, which are less strenuous. But because of the actions used in the cleaning process, the job has to done by the same person from beginning to end for the cable to be really clean. Kang’s exhortations helped them understand that through the work of their hands, these discarded cables will later be transformed into works of art that will be exhibited all over the world. Thus one after another they have volunteered to take part in this cleaning process.

One young prisoner in his twenties, having washed a cable halfway, was told that his mother had come to visit. Half an hour later, Kang Mu­xiang asked him how the visit had gone. The young man said that his mother had noticed how dirty he was, and asked what he had been doing, to which he replied that he was making art. “There’s a master artist here who makes art from steel cables,” he told her. “We are just now washing the cables, and later they will be used to create something that will go to be exhibited.” This was a new topic for dialogue between this prisoner and his family, and Kang sensed that from then on there was a subtle change in the relationship between parent and child.

“Through this chance opportunity I got to hear a speech by Master Kang in which he took his realizations about life and transformed them into a spiritual baptism, saying that only if you can transcend your own psychological barriers can you find rebirth.” “After the Master began to speak, I was hugely surprised by what he said. It turns out that the art of sculpture is closely related to our challenges in life, and the Master used the subject of rebirth to give me a life lesson that I will never forget.” The prisoners’ words reveal how Kang has shone a light into their hearts, filling this steel cable with the meaning of “rebirth.”

Cables connecting the world

The support and tolerance between the brothers and sisters of the large family into which Kang was born in ­Miaoli County’s Tong­xiao Township have given him a heart filled with love and concern, but in his creative work what he has gotten is the courage to innovate and break new ground. From Tong­xiao, Kang’s life in wood sculpture brought him to ­Sanyi and later to Gui­shan Island, and then by happenstance he encountered the steel cables of Tai­pei 101. To have the courage to take up any challenge or responsibility, to have the wisdom and tolerance to accept the consequences and be able to let go, and to continually make breakthroughs and innovate… this is Kang’s philosophy of life.

“At that moment, as I stood in the plaza outside Tai­pei 101 in front of the work Infinite Life, I vowed that starting from Tai­pei I wanted to use these cables to make a journey around the world.” Kang believes that the steel cables symbolize the strong and resilient character of Taiwanese people, and can help the world to understand their courage and toughness. The affirmation that he received from experts, artists, and ordinary people during his exhibits around the world deepened his confidence in steel cable artworks.

“This was once a piece of the living earth [in the form of iron ore], and was then refined by industrial technology into steel cables for elevators. After being used, it was given to me to recycle and reuse.” Kang took this thing that came out of the earth and, in the form of art, spread it to every corner of the world. These cables that once carried visitors up Tai­pei 101 also carry the thoughts and hopes entrusted to them by so many prison inmates, as well as Kang’s lifelong ardent hopes for and devotion to the environment and nature. Moreover, when the work Twin Life goes on permanent display at Twin Oaks, it will raise steel cable art to the level of public diplo­macy, giving an artistic creation from Taiwan infinite life by enabling it to bind together Taiwan and the US in even closer friendship.

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繁體 日本語



文‧陳亮君 圖‧康木祥工作室







隨著第二批101大樓鋼索的退役,康木祥受到外交部前部長李大維的邀請,希望能把歐洲的成功經驗,連結至美國。在外交部、文化部,以及駐美代表處的協助下,拜訪了「紐約時尚特區聯盟」(Garment District Alliance)的主席Barbara A. Blair。Blair女士在看到康木祥的作品後,大為感動,因為在世界上還沒有人能夠用鋼索來雕塑出這樣的作品,除了作品所展現出的環保訊息,其至剛(鋼索)與至柔(圓潤造型)的結合,更是讓人驚豔。

為了展現對康木祥作品的重視,紐約展方特地提早至5月在「紐約時尚特區」(The Garment District NYC)盛大開幕,整個夏天(2018.5.17~9.16)展出了7件康木祥的「重生:一條連結世界的鋼索」系列作品。10月則結合台灣駐美代表處慶祝雙橡園130周年活動,康木祥特地將作品《雙生》(Twin Life)捐贈給雙橡園永久典藏,為台灣的公眾外交盡一份心力。


此次於美國紐約展出的「重生」系列,除了有首次以紅銅纜線打造的《無限生命》(Infinite Life),也有全新創作的《傷腦鯨》(The Worried Whale)與《雙生》(Twin Life)兩件作品。

《傷腦鯨》(The Worried Whale)總重達2.9噸,高2.7公尺,身形在大大的鯨頭映襯下饒富趣味。「台灣是一個海洋島嶼,曾經有一隻鯨魚擱淺了,打開後裡面全是垃圾,我從這一點發現,我在跟地球和平共存作連結,要注重環保,要尊重生命。」康木祥述說著自己對海洋、對環境共生的疾呼與渴望,所以他讓鯨魚「坐」在那裡發呆,表現出究竟是「牠」在傷我們的腦筋,還是我們人類在「傷」牠的腦筋!一件作品,道盡了人與海洋和動物之間的連結與對話。

另一件作品《雙生》(Twin Life)是一個共生、共榮的關係,兩個生命扭動在一起,象徵一種和平與和氣,更是相融的代表,康木祥說:「我覺得這件作品放在雙橡園是特別有意義的,不管是台灣還是美國,都要有這種共享與合作。」這件作品重達3.7噸,高3.2公尺,是康木祥探勘完雙橡園後的最新力作。藉由鋼索讓兩方扭轉在一起,在過程中因為凹凸面太多,又要一線到底,除了極耗體力,每一個扭動,每一次轉角,對他來說都是極大的挑戰,不過也因為如此,才造就了這件作品的深度與生命力。









「當我站在台北101大樓前廣場的那一刻,我就在那件《無限生命》(Infinite Life)作品前發了願,從我們台北開始,希望能夠用這條鋼索去世界走一圈。」這條鋼索目前已從歐洲巡迴一萬多公里,再加上美國的一萬多公里後,地球繞一圈如以4萬公里計,就僅剩2萬里的路程。康木祥認為,這條鋼索,象徵著台灣人既「剛」且「柔」的個性,能夠讓世界理解台灣人的勇敢與韌性,尤其在世界巡迴的過程中,來自專家學者或藝術家或一般民眾所給予的肯定,更加深了他對鋼索作品的信心。

「這條鋼索原本就是地球的一塊肉(礦產),然後提煉成電梯鋼纜,成為工業科技,使用過後再交給我回收再利用。」康木祥將這塊取自於土地的東西,用藝術的形式,再次散播至世界上各個角落。這條曾經「乘」載著101大樓往來遊客的鋼索,也「承」載了許多受刑人所寄託的意念與希望,更是康木祥畢生對於環境、自然的殷殷期盼與力作。而此次《雙生》(Twin Life)作品也將永久典藏於雙橡園,更是將鋼索藝術,提升至公眾外交的另一層次,讓台灣的藝術創作,連結台灣跟美國的友好關係,產生愛的無限生命。



文・陳亮君 写真・康木祥工作室提供  翻訳・久保 恵子





台北101の高速エレベーターのケーブルを二回目に交換したとき、ヨーロッパでの成功をアメリカに結び付けたいと外交部の李大維・前外相に招かれ、外交部、文化部と駐米代表事務所の協力で、ニューヨークのガーメント地区連合のBarbara A. Blair代表を訪問することになった。Blair代表は康木祥の作品を見て、ケーブルを用いて彫塑作品を作り上げた人など世界で初めてと、いたく感動した。その作品はケーブルの再利用というエコのメッセージを伝えながら、ケーブルの「剛」と丸みを帯びた造形の「柔」が結びつき、驚くべき効果を上げているのである。

康木祥の作品を重視した地区連合では、5月に繰り上げてガーメント地区において展示を行うこととし、2018年5月17日から9月16日まで、康木祥「再生、世界を結ぶケーブル」シリーズの作品7点を展示している。10月には駐米代表処の置かれた双橡園(Twin Oaks)創設130周年記念イベントに向け、康木祥はその作品「双生」を双橡園に寄贈することにした。
















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