Born in Beijing in 1962, Zhan Wang began his studies in Beijing’s Industrial Arts College before moving to the Central Academy of Fine Arts, where he received his BFA in 1988, his MFA in 1996, and is now a member of the Academy’s sculpture faculty. Zhan’s primary artistic focus is the tension between old and new as reflected in the rapidly-changing urban landscape of Beijing. Already before his graduation, Zhan began to work with the stainless steel rock formations for which he is known. Then as now, these works are directly linked to his critical reflections upon the breakneck urban reconstructions that have posed as planning in his native city.
Zhan’s man-made shiny rocks pose a number of questions about the meaning and significance of tradition in the new China. Zhan draws upon tradition but refigures it in a material that is more ‘natural’ in the urban environment, more resonant in its shimmering, reflective qualities with the changing values of contemporary society. If the shiny, eye-catching surfaces of his stones favor overt artificiality over nature’s authenticity, this is similarly the case for the hallowed tradition of scholar's rocks Zhan’s stones reference. Known in Chinese as jia shan shi, or “fake mountain rocks,” such stones were used in gardens to symbolize nature within a man-made ‘natural’ environment apart from nature itself. Zhan’s stones represent an updated equivalent for the urban consumer age.
But the importance of tradition clearly remains in the forms the artist chooses and the double-edged meaning they convey. Zhan strikes a middle ground between accepting modernization, urbanization and the embrace of technology and advocating a respect for tradition that his refined craftsmanship so clearly evidences. Artificial Rock #86 is a beautiful and comparatively large example of Zhan’s continuing investigation and reproduction of these extraordinary natural forms for the post-modern world.
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