Water nourishes all things with moisture; gold dazzles with glistening brightness. And if they are joined together, transformed, what graceful dance will be woven from their union? Zheng Lu's sculpture Secret Scents makes use of futuristic materials to produce a long, undulating golden wave of water. Hanging in mid-air; its elegant, flowing lines lightly touch the base before swooping back up to float and soar in the air like ribbons of silk. Smaller columns of water splash out and upward, against the main flow, adding vigour and force to the sinuous rush of soft water. By borrowing the harmonious rhythms of calligraphy, Zheng gives this image of water in motion a traditional soul. As in Dispersed Clouds, Rolling Waves by Southern Song Dynasty artist Ma Yuan, from his Water Album of 12 scroll paintings, the image of natural, flowing water expresses our feelings of lofty grandeur and our natural desire for transcendence.
Zheng Lu began introducing the dynamics of water into his sculptures in 2009. His original inspiration derived from lines in the Bai Juyi poem An Appreciation of Still Water: 'Those who are active appreciate rushing water; those who are quiet appreciate the still waters.' In traditional Chinese culture, water has often been used to represent a persons inner state: still like a bright mirror, lightly tossing waves, or great stormy billows. Water follows the lay of the land, having no permanent form of its own, but Zheng Lu gives its changeable nature a solid, stable physicality, and each sculpture bears the imprint of a particular psychological moment. The title of this work, Secret Scents, is taken from the poem Lantern Festival by Xing Qiji: 'In her hair she wears snowy willows, golden thread, and butterfly pins; Along with the sound of her laughter, a secret scent floats by.' The water in Zheng's sculpture flows, quick and excited, with the glittering colours of the Lantern Festival. Rising and falling, it suddenly turns back on itself, just as the line from the poem says, with a rush of great surprise: 'I suddenly turn my head, and there she is, at the edge of the lantern light.'
Zheng Lu has mostly worked with steel in its natural finish; only a very few pieces, like Secret Scents, are in gold. The union of gold and water reflects the ancient Chinese dictum, 'Find knowledge in underlying principles of things,' which is to say, one can acquire knowledge and wisdom by observing things in nature. It was also said that 'the greatest benevolence is like water,' given the nourishing, enriching quality of water that softly and gently transforms everything around us. As early as the 4th century, the Thousand Character Classic noted that 'gold begets water' in its discussion of how the five elements arise from and depend on each other. Water's softness, gold's hardness, the feminine and the masculine, heaviness and lightness, movement and stillness — the sculptures of Zheng Lu subtly examine each aspect of the natural world within a finely balanced whole.
Born into a literary family, Zheng Lu practiced calligraphy from an early age and was especially sensitive to the Eastern aesthetics of movement and harmonious energy. Deep professional knowledge of sculptural techniques has enabled the transformation of these expressive, calligraphic gestures into sculptural forms. His working process is a symphony of tradition in collision with technology. Painstakingly molding the curve of every line, he invests huge amounts of labor in each stage of the work as he cuts, welds, and polishes his metals. Just as Zao Wou-ki could create a sense of vast space out of the brushwork of this calligraphic tradition, Zheng Lu captures a instant of flowing water and injects the feel of its awe-inspiring momentum into space. In 2017, he produced the large-scale sculpture Water for China's National Centre for the Performing Arts, showing once again how, in a grand space, his soundless work creates a surging, resounding energy.