Zhan Wang is one of the most important contemporary Asian sculptors, and his realist work Sitting Girl, exhibited in the 'New Generation Art Exhibition' in the early-1990s, is indubitably a classic. His later Mao Suit series is regarded as the commencement of new sculpture in Chinese contemporary art, while his magnum opus, the Artificial Rocks series, is collected by more than 30 internationally renowned museums and foundations, including the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The artist transplants oriental cosmology and concepts of nature into his sculptural practice, locating the genre of the scholar rock in varied social, cultural, and geographical contexts. The 'rocks' open a dialogue with their surroundings through reflections on their stainless steel surfaces. Inspired by the techniques of rock-rubbing and yu ling long - a highly specialised skill of jade carving - and giving full play to the malleability of the metal, Zhan Wang delineates the shapes and textures of rocks according to their structures and forms, creating 'fake' taihu stones. Every stainless steel rock has undergone nine processes of meticulous craftsmanship, forming a production course sustained by personal expression that seamlessly combines technique and concept.
Artificial Rock Series: No. 150 is a splendid example among Zhan Wang's recent projects with scholar rocks. The sculpture is slender with folds crisscrossing its surface like ravines and gullies, corresponding to the traits characterising the traditional Chinese aesthetics of taihu stones: slender, elegantly porous, and light with voids channelling the two sides of the rock. The rock measures more than two metres tall, parading a vivid line with its 'S'-shape like a dancer on tiptoe and conveying a lightness that transcends the physical attributes of the material. The mirrored stainless steel surface reflects the objects and landscape surrounding the work, as visual distortion is brought forth by the undulations of the rock's contour. The steadfast form of the sculpture acts as a platform for the profusion of changes in visual impacts corresponding to variations in the environs of the work.
Chinese culture is known for its symbolism. Ancient Chinese people placed scholar rocks in their gardens and residences as a mimesis of the natural landscape. These small rocks, stemming from the substance of the earth, reveal an affinity between man and nature. Conventional arrangements of space, time, and scale are undermined by human imagination, and Chinese traditional aesthetics are mediated in a poetic manner. To experience the beauty that surpasses limits in time and space, viewers must place themselves in a specific spatial context. Compared with the rigid delineation of traditional taihu stones, Zhan Wang's scholar rocks demonstrate an openness constructed by reflexivity of their materials, and never fall victim to the confines of a monotonous aesthetic standard.
'Discussing my scholar rock series, my mind always revolves around the texture of its original material. The mirrored surface evokes the purest and most direct response from the audience, as the spectacle constructed by their material experience nourishes the spirit,' says Zhan Wang.