Looking Slowly, Watching “Rising”

Zhang Huang, Rising - photo by R. Mair

Zhang Huan, Rising – photo by R. Mair

On visits to Toronto I watched this sculpture as it changed from simpler elements to complex combinations of shape and surface.  We would walk along University Avenue, already rich in public art, and pass this new and very different piece.

At first it looked like twisting, thrusting vines, or like the limbs of some great sinuous, headless creature rising and bowing and bending.  Then it began to sprout birds.  And then the birds were flying up the building.

It fascinated me.  It was something that I wanted to stop and look at, to walk around and see from different perspectives.  I wanted to, but I didn’t have time.  Now I’m waiting till I go back again to take another look – or several.  I want to see it in different light, at different times.

Zhang Huang, Rising, photo by R. Mair

Zhang Huan, Rising, photo by R. Mair

Because even though I’m not there it still stays with me. There is the sinewy underlying shape. It touches the ground, rests in the water, reaches up toward the sky. The vines/limbs contort like muscles working, twist and curve. They are more strong than peaceful, nature demanding attention.

They are also a strong, supple support. The birds rest and preen on them, land and take off and fly away upward. Their wings are multi-faceted and gleaming, reflecting the light, reinforcing a sense of business and activity. They want to fly away, and yet they can’t – the vine underneath and the building above must support them. They are, in the end, as earthbound as we are.

Zhang Huang, Rising, photo by R. Mair
Zhang Huan, Rising, photo by R. Mair

Birds and branches respond to the light. Sunlight moves across and reflects off the multiple surfaces. They change with the light around them, reflecting bright sun or cloudy skies or the gleam of lights at night. And the sculpture itself is reflected by the water beneath it.

It was created by Shanghai artist Zhang Huan, as a commission for the developers of Living Shangri-La, Toronto. Almost complete, it was officially unveiled last May (2012) after an incense burning ceremony and a poetry reading by the artist. The stainless steel sculpture is called “Rising”; the birds are peace pigeons and the twisted branches are designed to resemble the body of a dragon. According to a press release on Marketwire it represents the artist’s wish for a beautiful city life to be shared by man and nature.

I know that, like me, many people walk past it, sitting as it does beside a busy sidewalk. I wonder how many stop to really look at this sculpture, and wonder what lies behind it? Or do they walk past without looking, or glance and mean to stop one day?

Browsing through some of my favorite art blogs I came across a phrase that described what this piece needs: “slow looking”. When I read that I knew that was the phrase I’d been looking for. Slow looking – savoring what you’re looking at. Taking time. Exploring with your eyes, opening your mind and letting it wonder – and wander.

It’s a wonderful way to look at art. Or at life.

Wishing you all time to enjoy some slow looking…


I wanted to explore the idea of slow looking, so I put the phrase into my favorite search engine. I found Peter Clothier, who encourages and demonstrates a combination of meditation, engagement and contemplation that allows you to explore every part of a painting as well as the painting as a whole, just as it is. He encourages everyone to see art in a way that is completely their own.

And I found out that there’s a Slow Art Day, on which groups of people are encouraged to get together and look at five works of art for ten minutes each. Ten minutes is longer than most of us spend in front of a painting! This year (2013) Slow Art Day is April 27th.

Or you could do what I try to every now and then, give yourself the gift of time and use it to immerse yourself in a work of art. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

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