ZHAN WANG (Chinese, B. 1962)
ZHAN WANG (Chinese, B. 1962)

Artificial Rock No.150

ZHAN WANG (Chinese, B. 1962)
Artificial Rock No.150
titled '150#'; signed in Chinese; dated '2010' and numbered 'AP 1/2'
stainless steel sculpture
Rock size 234 x 90 x 75 cm. (92 1/8 x 35 3/8 x 29 1/2 in.) ; Base size: 8.5 x 160 x 94 cm. (3 3/8 x 63 x 37 in.)
edition AP 1/2
Executed in 2010
Private Collection, Asia

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

It is often said that "art imitates life". If the adage is true, what are the properties of the contemporary life?
From the second half of the 20th century onward, Capitalism has been incessantly hastening production and consumption behaviours. Compounded by the explosion of technology and the advent of the Information Age, the concept of reproduction becomes a global phenomenon and an impulse of the human race. An entity must have special quality, value, or meaning for it to be chosen as the object for reproduction - such as architectural style, daily products, or lifestyles. The reproductions of these entities will also be modified so that they may be assimilated into the demands of the targeted environment and culture. Zhan Wang started creating his Stainless Steel Artificial Rock Mountain Series in 1995. He explained, "As garden decoration, the purpose of the artificial mountain was to fulfill the human fantasy of returning to nature through these small natural rocks. However, this traditional and idealised vision is being distorted by the surrounding environment - it is evident that it is not sufficient nor suitable to represent our time. That is why I chose to use the artificial mirror: the stainless steel. Taking advantage of its glamourous but deceptive surface characteristiccs, I was able to modify and reproduce the natural artificial rock mountain in hopes that the work can supersede the natural rock as the medium of a new imagination.

Since the Classical period, Western sculpture emphasises fidelity to the natural world. This is especially true for the accurate representation of the human anatomy. In terms of materiality, the identity of the stone as a medium is to imitate the subject. Through the sculpting process of the artist, this medium provides an illusion to the viewers. The sculpted figure, no matter how naturalistic and rich in texture it is, in reality, it is still an imitation - the truth of the matter is that it is still a piece of stone. Michelangelo said that he saw the angel in the marble and carved until he set the subject free. On the contrary, an unfinished work that he was executing in his later years (Fig. 1) asserts the presence of the stone as a natural object - this coincide with the investigation of the expressive power of the medium in contemporary art. Rock, in Chinese culture, is also an agent of imitation. In the garden, it plays the role of the towering peak - it is a miniature artificial mountain. Zhan Wang takes this concept even further. By using sheets of stainless steel to reproduce this artificial mountain, semantically, the genuine mountain has been reproduced two-fold. When the rock is imitating the mountain, it is also being imitated by the stainless steel medium. The successful reproduction of Stainless Steel Artificial Mountain Rock has a reflective and mirror-like finish. It has the ability to take on the ever-changing colours and shapes of the surroundings as if it exists in an entirely objective space. This property enables it to detach itself from the natural materiality of the rock and become an entity that is independent and rich in character. Viewers inevitably will have to ponder whether this intricate and animated work, Artificial Rock No. 150 (Lot 46), is an imitation of the artificial rock mountain, or is it a stainless steel sculpture that has taken the form of the artificial rock mountain. It is a serious dialectic on authenticity.

Ready-made sculpture are composed of objects that are not fabricated for the purpose of art, but are chosen by the artists. This concept challenges the ideologies of Western academic art and its attempt to severe art from the everyday in order to cater to the taste of the elites and bourgeoisie. In early 20th century, Duchamp created Fountain (Fig. 2) - he did not modify the physical nature of the urinal, but conceptually, it was endowed with a new meaning. Zhan Wang's Stainless Steel Artificial Rock Mountain is a response to Duchamp's readymades: every stainless steel artificial rock mountain was a reproduction of a genuine rock counterpart (Stainless steel sheets of varying sizes are laid on top of the original rock and planished into shape with a hammer. The process is similar to print rubbing. These pieces are then welded together, ground, and polished. This process was awarded a national patent in 2002). Selecting this type of readymade is a tedious process. It involves the limitation of what has been provided by nature. The original rock has to possess the qualities of traditional rock appreciation: boney, jagged, and transparent in its cavity formations. These factors greatly influence the quality of the work. After the process of reproduction in stainless steel, all traces of the original rock can no longer be found. The stainless steel medium was bestowed with the form of the original rock, and it has completely replaced the readymade. The distinctive identity of the artwork's original medium is thus stolen by the imitation medium. The stainless steel artificial rock mountains provoke the viewers to contemplate the ready-made beyond its materiality: through the reproduction of the stainless steel medium, the original rock left behind not only its natural form, but also endless re-examinations of its associations with tradition, contemporaneity, nature and artificiality.

Each individual has his or her own definition of reproduction. Korean artist Suh Do Ho meticulously tailors translucent fabric into architectures that evoke personal memories. His works inspire the viewer to reflection on the issues of space (Fig. 3). The 1993 Turner Prize winner Rachel Whiteread is renown for her resin reproduction process. She made casts of the negative space underneath a staircase inside of a three-storey 18th century building. This work challenges the viewers' pre-conceived notions about the function of tradition, form, and space (Fig. 4). On the other hand, Zhan Wang's Stainless Steel Artificial Rock Mountain emphasises the traditional subject matter and its relevance with the contemporary environment. The work also highlights the materialistic mentality of people nowadays. It aims to forge new meanings in visual culture. The artist chooses to use scholar's rock that are found in nature as the subject of replication and not man-made objects such as architecture. Using the artificial medium of stainless steel, he reproduces and eulogises the perpetuity of nature.

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