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July 17, 2011

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Art of exploding rock

ZHAN Wang's signature stainless steel sculptures Jia Shan Shi (Artificial Mountain Rock) were the first Chinese contemporary sculptures acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the De Young Museum in San Francisco. The British Museum made his "wacky" stainless steel sculptures the highlight of Chinese contemporary art in its Grand Hall for a year.

Some Chinese media call the 49-year-old artist "the iron man in art."

Zhan does not limit himself to sculpture but explores the interaction of technique, materials and conception.

He is one of the first to use stone and rock elements of traditional Chinese garden design in contemporary art. Critics have called his rock series a "dialogue between new technologies and cultural traditions." His work appears in leading contemporary art galleries, such as Chambers Fine Art in New York, Long March Art Space in Beijing, and ShanghART in Shanghai.

Entering the ongoing exhibition "Voyage" of the French fashion house Louis Vuitton at the National Museum of China in Beijing, visitors encounter one of Zhan's works, a large, textured rock-like sculpture coated in silver and titled "Initial."

Zhan, a professor at China's Central Academy of Fine Arts, also premieres excerpts from his new video art piece "My Universe" about creation and destruction.

Shot with a high-speed camera, it depicts the explosion of a giant, 5-meter-long Taihu Lake stone from six angles. Taihu Lake stones, sometimes called scholar's rocks, are an element of Chinese culture, famous for their unusual shapes and textures and are sought after in traditional gardens. The entire high-resolution video, documentaries and new sculpture installations will be exhibited at Beijing's Ullens Center for Contemporary Art by the end of the year.

"The work depicts the process by which a large rock is broken into thousands of small pieces - each in its raw shape, and each following its own voyage," said Zhan, a Beijing native.

Q: Some Chinese contemporary artists are cooperating with luxury brands, including Ding Yi with Hermes and Xue Song with Ferragamo. Please describe your LV cooperation.

A: The LV Foundation has collected my works, so the cooperation comes when conditions are right. My understanding of luxury brands deepens through this cooperation. This work is part of a series for my solo exhibition at the end of the year. I especially created the crust of the stone to make a glitzy explosion inside the stone for the LV exhibition. The creation inspired me greatly and turns out to be an independent work that demonstrates my creative development.

Q: Your works are famous as post-modernist and the LV exhibition shows 157 years of brand history and culture. Have there been sparks during the cooperation?

A: Post-modernism language is an art trend that brings pop culture into art creation, and expresses the minds and thoughts of modern people through metaphor and symbol. Dehistorization, outstanding appearance and refusion to abstraction are all post-modernist features but they are not in contradiction with fashion. The main idea behind the LV brand is travel, which naturally connects with my work "Initial." Every time people travel, they must start at the "beginning," which means we need to figure out where we came from and then decide where to go. Making ourselves clear about the aim of the travel, we will enjoy and concentrate on the fresh feelings and great discoveries found during it.

Every field that I am not familiar with can inspire me both in life and work. I am always fascinated by the joy during crossover work. I also know that the harder you stick to your own professional style, the more enjoyment you will get from cross-field cooperation.

Q: Your work "My Universe" expresses the explosion of energy, its death and rebirth. How did you choose this idea?

A: By death and renascence, I mean the death and renascence of the universe. Human beings' death and renascence are so small compared with the universe's. My idea is to observe and feel the "initial" explosion and the travel it brings to us, until it dies out, so that we know better how to treat the present.

Q: Your exotic and novel designs are famous. Where does your inspiration come from? Do you have a favorite work? What's special about stainless steel?

A: My concept of creation is gradually formed. What we can learn are the methods or ways of creation, but the concept and ideas are inherent, no one can teach you this, and it has something to do with body and personality. So theoretically, how many people are there, how many different concepts we possess.

My favorite work is "Floating Stone Adrift on the Open Sea." (Ed: A floating sculpture of a rock was launched into the ocean and its location and fate are unknown.) This is the most lonely artwork in the world.

It will float in the high seas forever and I will not let it back. Stainless steel symbolizes dreams and practical benefits, elegance and worldliness, power and haziness. The key point is how to use it. Before I use in my creations, it has just the one-sided use of expressing the feeling of modernity.

Q: Will you exhibit in Shanghai?

A: There are no plans at present, but many of my works have been exhibited in Shanghai, including my first work. After Beijing, Shanghai is the city where I most want to exhibit my works.


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