Kissed by the wind and carved by the water, the scholar’s rock embodies centuries of Chinese literati aesthetic. Appreciated for the furrowed, rich surface, these stones stand testimony to the power and beauty of nature. As a product of Zhan Wang ’s desire to find a balance between his cultural roots and the rapidly modernizing China, Artificial Rock # 63 is a stainless steel sculpture modeled after a classical scholar’s rock. Opposed to the organic, dynamic forces of nature, Zhan’s artificial stone, modeled with highly polished steel, stands unchanging in time, attempting to encapsulate the zeitgeist of the moment through artificial permanence.
Zhan mounts and hammers sheets of stainless steel around the scholar’s rock. Once welded together, the materiality of the highly polished steel removes the sculpture further away from the realm of literati art and into the contemporary age. The result is a sculpture that is transformed into an impermeable shell for the original scholar’s rock. The distorted reflections and emptiness within seems to be Zhan’s critical comment on the contemporary Chinese society – industrial, impetuous and philistine. In the end, from Chinese literati aesthetics to modern industrial practices, the sculpture represents a myriad of identities while simultaneously not belonging to any.
Yet, the sculpture offers possibilities for the reconstruction of China’s cultural legacy. Like Constantin Brancusi’s Maiastra, Zhan’s adaptation of traditional culture in unlikely materials assert both a sense of familiarity and one of peculiarity. Inspired by the magical bird from Romanian folklore, Brancusi’s mythical creature is injected with a sense of modernity through the polished surface and the sculpture’s infinite continuity. Zhan, by modeling his pieces from classical artifacts in reflective steel, also offer viewers a glance into a world where tradition and modernity become two complementary instead of opposing forces. Ultimately, Artificial Rock #63 serves as a blueprint for understanding Zhan’s concerns with the contemporary Chinese society while also offering us a chance to envisage what he hopes to achieve.