Since the Song Dynasty, the scholar’s rock has been revered as the physical embodiment of organic energy and nature’s creative powers. Carved by wind and water into myriad shapes and forms, these stones come in an innumerable variety of materials, with the traditional characteristics being their formation by natural means, and the aesthetic pleasure that they evoke.
Artificial Rock No. 81 is modelled after a classical scholar’s rock, yet natural stone is replaced by a gleaming stainless steel surface. To create his artificial stones, Zhan Wang first selects a naturally-formed scholars’ rock to use as a guide, then moulds thin sheets of stainless steel around the surface of the original stone. After the sheets are removed, welded together, and polished to a mirror finish, the result is a hybrid form that seamlessly embodies both tradition and modernity.
Like Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, Zhan’s sculptures reflect and distort the world of the viewer, interacting with the environments in which they are placed. Standing before one of Zhan Wang’s artificial rocks, the image of one’s surroundings are twisted and bent along numerous planes and curves, changing according to the position of the viewer, and in turn affecting perception of the work. While the polished chrome of the artwork’s surface suggests the built environments and industrial products of modern urban China, the classical wooden base grounds the work firmly within Chinese aesthetic tradition.
Zhan has stated, “By deconstructing the visual symbols associated with literati culture, I seek out common intersections with current society, with the hope of expressing my attitudes towards modernization.” Zhan’s departure from the classical scholar’s rock form expresses the artist’s own critical interest in modern Chinese society. In this regard, by encouraging similar introspection within the viewer, Artificial Rock fulfils the classical criteria against which stones were judged, embodying formal beauty and inspiring profound contemplation of our relationship with nature.