"In my series of works copying jiashanshi, I force the imagination to play upon the texture of the original material. By way of the mirror surface of the copy, I can induce a most direct and pure response from the viewer. Such visions produced through experience of the material nurture the life of the human spirit."
Iconoclast Zhan Wang's introduction of stainless steel into his oeuvre, a medium seemingly inevitably suited to the manner posited by his theory of sculpture has not been without the trials and tribulations of a true conceptualist. Zhan centralizes his focus on freeing sculpture from the restrictions inherent in the 20th Century Chinese sculptural traditions. Notably, he is concerned with the relationship between the opposing forces of old and new, natural and man made form. These forces have always formed a yin-yang dichotomy within which we negotiate our lives. Essentially whilst the new is rapidly eradicating the old, he propitiates that tradition need not disappear despite the ascendancy of the modern.
Chinese interest in collecting rocks for spiritual or aesthetic purposes has been traced to the Han dynasty. Aptly labeled "Scholar Rocks", the smaller size were carried around affectionately by Chinese literati who took these portable mountains into their sanctuaries, admiring the rocks for "surfaces that suggest great age, forceful profiles that evoke the grandeur of nature, overlapping layers or plans that import depth, and hollows or perforations that create rhythmic, harmonious patterns." Rocks in a Chinese garden symbolize the craggy, inaccessibly peaks of fanciful paradises for the immortals, and in tandem with water form a microcosmic representation of nature on a grand scale.
Zhan's artificial Jiashanshi are made by hammering sheets of stainless steel onto the surface of a meticulously sourced genuine Jiashanshi or Scholar rock. Small pieces are pounded, removed, and then welded together, in an extremely laborious process polishing the steel to an illusory metamorphosis of material. Hollow inside, tolling like a bell, the viewer is left to ponder what might have been within. Forcing the imagination to play upon the texture of the original material; the mercurial shell after polished to a high sheen reflects the colours of its surroundings with consequently no colour of its own, the exterior adapting and altering in its environment. Zhan induces a most direct and pure response from the viewer where such mirrored visions "produced through experience of the material, nurture the life of the human spirit."
Expressing complex feelings about life, Zhan keeps with artistic self-assurance and has remained largely aloof from the often conflicting form of involvement with Western artistic trends. His steel replicas of rocks become a means of expressing complex feelings about life, combining the qualities of rocks and water; the individual can escape the urban jungle and seek out nature. Zhan's interest in the philosophical properties of physical materials reflects his concern for the changing quality of life, and considers the effects of social engineering upon humanity. Zhan Wang's Scholar Rock is the perfunctory and quintessential example that old and new, natural and manufactured can coexist as a harmonious whole, just as yin and yang does so long as society is given the outlets and resources to bridge those divides.