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Zhan Wang (b. 1962)
ZHAN WANG (Chinese, B. 1962)

Artificial Rock series: No. 93

Details
ZHAN WANG (Chinese, B. 1962)
Artificial Rock series: No. 93
dated '2005'; inscribed '93#'; signed in Chinese; numbered '3/4' (engraved on lower back)
stainless steel sculpture
sculpture :30 x 50 x 122 cm. (11 7/8 X 19 5/8 X 48 in)
base: 37 x 33 x 23.5 cm. (14 1/2 X 13 X 9 1/4 in)
edition 3/4
Executed in 2005
Literature
Gansu Peoples Fine Arts Publishing House, Chinese Artists of Today: Zhan Wang, Lanzhou, China, 2008 (illustrated, pp. 190 & 388).
Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, National Art Museum of China, Zhan Wang: Garden Utopia, Changsha, China, 2009 (illustrated, pp. 112-113). MOT/ARTS, JUT Living Development Co. Ltd., Urban Arcadia, Taipei, Taiwan, 2011 (illustrated, p. 35).
Exhibited
Beijing, China, National Art Museum of China, Garden Utopia, 2008.

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

Lot Essay

Artificial Rock No. 93 (Lot 35) is one of the Zhan Wang's most prominent works from the series. Its slim, long shape and unfathomable depth conforms to the aesthetics of traditional "Taihu' scholar rocks. In traditional Chinese culture, Taihu rocks can be judged on the aesthetic criteria of thinness (shou), perforations (lou) and openness (tou). In Artificial Rock No. 93, some of the holes hollowed out of the piece are only 0.5 cm away from each other. Working with stainless steel, the artist duplicates the perforations found on Taihu rocks, caused by water erosion over hundreds of years. The artfully arranged holes have a miraculous relationship with each other that create rhythmic patterns. The small holes on makes it possible for viewers to get a glimpse of the view beyond the object, almost as if they were looking at a microcosm of nature through a garden window.

Ancient Chinese scholars placed small-sized rock replicas of mountains in their gardens to evoke the grandeur of nature. These portable mountains incited meditation on the unity between man and nature, inviting the imagination to break down the conventions of space, time and size. Thus, they express traditional aesthetic notions in a poetic manner.
The viewer needs to position themselves in this environment to understand the transcendental beauty. In contrast to the fixed, static form of traditional "Taihu" scholar rock, which promote one single aesthetic standard, the multi-faceted nature of Zhan's Artificial Rocks invite a range of interpretative possibilities. The highly polished mercurial look of stainless steel produces different visual effects under different lighting, in different environments. By installing the works in different geographical, temporal, cultural contexts, the artist also stimulates a dialogue between his works and the environment. Upon completing his formal artistic training from the Academy, Zhan Wang spent some time contemplating the creative possibilities of the sculptural process. His early projects helped him refine the concept of "sculptural intervention" In his early work, Inlaid Great Wall (Fig. 1), 2001, the artist uses gold bricks to repair the broken and worn sections of the Great Wall. He thus injects the sparkly, metallic aesthetic of gold into a historic site. In doing so, he used sculpture to alter the original form of a place, moulded by natural conditions over time. He uses various ways to forge a connection with society. His stainless steel rocks have been sent and installed at various public spaces including cityhalls, the ocean, outerspace (The museum at Xichang Satellite launch centre) and Mount Everest. By distributing his works to significant historical and geographical sites, he establishes a connection between his works with these landmarks.


Zhan Wang is suspicious of the fixed state of matter. This attitude has enhanced his ability to command his material. In his works, he emphasizes the natural, inherent qualities of materials. This emphasis on the nature of the material is also evident in Brancusi's Bird in Space (L'Oiseau dans l'espace)(Fig. 2). At the same time, Zhan sees the material, the form, the lighting and the environment as components that complete sculpture. This shows his awareness of the literati notion of "synaesthesia". The renowned Chinese literati scholar and writer, Qian Zhongshu gave "synaesthesia" the following definition: "In everyday experience, sight, hearing, touch, scent and taste interact and blend into one another. Colours seem to have a temperature, sounds seem to have a form. Temperatures seem to have weight and smells seem to have a sharp edge." The artist exploits the indivisibility of sight and smell to create a strong impression with gold metals and rocks. Since his sculptures are hollow, they appear lighter that their actual weight. Depending on the site of production, stainless steels also have different colour temperatures. The smooth, shiny surface of the stainless steel strongly contrasts the rough, dark greys of stones. The artist thus appeals to all our senses to generate a powerful aesthetic emotion.

Zhan Wang's sculptural creations reflect his profound understanding of mechanics, structure, and material of sculpture, influenced by Western modes of thought. At the same time, his works have also been informed by traditional Chinese jade carving techniques as exemplified in "exquisite Jade rock" (Fig. 3) and calligraphic rubbing techniques. The sculptures are made by hammering stainless steel around the contours of a rock until all the patterns are extracted onto the malleable metal. The artist then prys the metal away in sections, then welds and varnishes the metal to produce a gleaming, hollow replica of the original form. This process thus shows Zhan Wang's skilful ability to harness technology in presenting his artistic conceptions. In the 1990s, stainless steel was mass imported into China during for the construction of new urban areas. The expansion of China's commercial industry led to the pursuit of a "ostentatious" aesthetic, embodying the materialism of the age. For the artist, the pursuit for "eternal polish and gloss" on some level reflects the rapidly fading humanistic traditions of ancient city of Beijing. Although one finds darting, shifting reflections of the surrounding on the mirror-like surfaces of the stylized rocks, the rocks remain inanimate. They can produce remarkably different effects in different environments. According to Zhan Wang, "In the Artificial Rock series, I let the imagination interact with original texture of the materials. Through the mirror-like surfaces, I stimulate a direct and pure response from the viewer. These visions, produced through an experience with the material, is nurturing to the human spirit."
Uninhibited by the laws of logic, these bizarre forms embody the ideal of spiritual freedom sought by many artists. Under strong light, the light reflects off the piece to create the captivating sparkle of gems. Under a dimmer light, one can appreciate the beauty of the simple unadorned form on its own. This visual experience tacitly coincides with the Chinese philosophy that teaches that one should learn to be content with whatever comes, and be in a state of peace at the heart of these boundaries. Otherwise, one might be trapped within boundaries. The natural world is an embodiment of this "moderate" attitude. This reiterates the notion that man and nature are one.

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