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Molding Metals

Molding Metals
From the VI to China

In a large gymnasium in Changchun, China, artists from 106 countries and territories are happily working on sculptures to be displayed in parks throughout the city. Two of those artists are from the Virgin Islands. Aragorn Dick-Read of Tortola and Edney Freeman of St Thomas are attending the 12th China Changchun International Sculpture Symposium where they have been given the privilege to spend a month dedicated to creating art.

I spoke with Aragorn via Skype shortly after he arrived in China. It was 10 am in Tortola and 10 pm in Changchun. Aragorn, seated in the lobby of his hotel and chatting with me using his iPad, looked far from jet-lagged; rather, he appeared as energetic and adventurous as he does when working at his farm above Trunk Bay or in his studio at Trellis Bay. His excitement stemmed, in part, from being able to connect with creative minds from diverse backgrounds. “There are artists from all over the world here,” he said, “speaking the same artistic language” and “bouncing around ideas with other artists and the Chinese hosts.” He added that China intrigues him as the country is “trying to absorb art from all over the world.” He said, “You can feel that they’re trying to do something in a different way … trying to understand art but are fearful of the powerful uses of art—coping with art as an expressive force, but it could be a dangerous political force as well.” Aragorn admitted that he was skeptical about going to China to begin with, but he stated that he was impressed with “the degree of integrity in sincerity of what they’re doing.” The enormity of China impressed him as well. “The inevitability of that amount of people … who can activate and present [their] culture and ideas in a much stronger way than it ever has before” makes it “a fun time to be in China,” he said.


Aragorn was originally slated to complete only one sculpture—an enormous steel fireball—for the symposium, but while the ball required extra time for production in Beijing, he was commissioned to create a second piece out of bronze. The two-metre spiral sculpture, The Power of Nature, will be cast over a mold made from clay over a steel and wire armature, and Aragorn said he was collecting “bits and pieces of human junk—keyboards, cell phones, plastic guns” and pressing them into the clay, so the use of disposable, plastic, mass-produced products will be preserved in timeless, elemental bronze. His official description of the piece states, “The found objects chaotically embedded into the sides of the sculpture are representative of all tools with which we try to control, harness or shape nature's energy.”

For his fireball, the largest he’s ever made at 10 feet in diameter, Aragorn is again influenced by his surroundings. “I use figure imagery quite a lot, and the amount of people here is pretty amazing.” His original idea for the theme of his fireball, of a dragon chasing a pearl of wisdom, changed once the ball arrived. “A lot of these things you have to leave to the spontaneous moment, so I have to feel my way around it.” The steel sphere, called The Dream of Human Harmony, now depicts lotus flowers, plowed fields, the Great Wall, sunflowers and human figures. The human figures that cover most of the fireball “represent the souls of the population,” according to his blurb on the piece. 

While Aragorn’s work has been influenced by his current surroundings, St Thomas’ Edney Freeman has brought a bit of the Virgin Islands with him to China. We corresponded via email while he was attending the symposium. His piece, Tropical Masquerader with Cape and Whip, depicts a hooded individual wielding a whip that is suspended midair. “The whip is symbolic in that the person being struck by the whip will experience good fortune and youth for the whole year,” he said. This concept of a person being whipped in celebration turns on its head the typical association of whipping as a form of punishment. “The theme for the Symposium is Innovation, Leap and Dream. The masked figure is seemingly leaping into the future with whip in hand,” he said. The cape, he said, “symbolizes the man’s dream of flight” and caped superheroes. To reinforce the lightheartedness of the ominous-looking figure, he pointed out that it “is also wearing jingle bells around the ankles to add another dimension of sound.” He told me that the sculpture measures 2.2 metres and will be cast in bronze to be permanently placed in a new park in Changchun. “My aim and strategy was to continue to display the culture of the USVI with powerful images associated with our carnival celebration,” he said. “The first piece I did in ’06 [for the 7th China Changchun Sculpture Symposium] was entitled Mocko Jumbie Shaking the Hand of a Tourist—now permanently displayed in the World Sculpture Park in Changchun. …  My task is to leave a sampling of the rich traditions, customs and celebrations associated with the Afro Caribbean experience in the USVI in China.”


Mr Freeman, a teacher at Charlotte Amalie High School, appreciates the importance of traveling abroad and hopes to communicate to his students “the importance of learning geography and language.” He said, “It’s like the UN here with so many artists coming from places all over the world…most artists speak no less than three languages.” In addition to the diversity of language, he also aims to teach tolerance. “One may not understand the customs and traditions of another country, yet one should show respect,” he said.

While in China, Mr Freeman indicated that he’d like to learn a few Mandarin phrases to complement the history he’s learned about the country, including “its exploits and world explorations before they became isolationists and closed their doors,” he said. This historical perspective adds depth to his understanding of modern-day China which Mr Freeman said “has a great vision of itself for the future.”

Both artists hope to act as ambassadors of the VI. In addition to meeting artists from all over the world, Aragorn mentioned the solidarity between the artists from the Caribbean—Dominica, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, Antigua—and noted that the BVI government could benefit from using the talented, internationally recognized artists here as a tool to market the territory’s culture. Mr Freeman said, “I see myself as not just an ambassador representing the USVI in an unofficial way…but also as one who represents myself, family… all the educational institutions I attended or worked at from elementary through graduate school, communities where I grew up, and my whole past learning experiences with my professors and all who I came in contact with that contributed to my growth as an individual and an artist.” Through their creations, each artist is leaving a piece of himself, a piece of the Virgin Islands, for viewers in China to contemplate. The sculptures will be unveiled at the official opening ceremony on September 1 in Changchun.

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