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November 13, 2016

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Home » Sunday » Art

Young sculptor confronts timeless themes

IT’S rare to see a sculptor as young as Zheng Lu land a solo exhibition, let alone an exhibition at a venue like Long Art Museum, one of the top museums in the city.

Born in 1978 in Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, Zheng studied at Lunxun Art Academy in Shenyang, the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-arts de Paris. The recipient of numerous awards, his sculptures have been collected by UBS and China’s National Center for the Performing Arts.

There is a poetic and narrative power in Zheng’s works, as though they are meant to not just show something but to speak. In fact, the highlight of his shows is a tower-shaped piece constructed from nearly 10,000 aluminum flakes. The daunting installation gives out a sound through specially designed mechanical structure by the artist himself. Zheng describes this as his first “sound sculpture” and believes “sound is the direction of the future.”

In recent years, Zheng has fused the concepts of material, characters, water, time and space into his output to manifest the relationship between man and nature.

Zheng says his favorite material is stainless steel, which he uses to imbue his sculptures with a poetic and profound aura.

“One might encounter a natural landscape randomly everywhere in his ordinary life, but it might just be an illusion. If he or she returns to that original scenario, then they surely would be tortured by idealism. Actually it is tragic whether you go back or go on,” Zheng concludes.

As a young artist, have you ever experienced the hardship and pain of being unable to sell your sculptures while also having to invest in making new ones?

A: Surely I did, and this was almost the toughest period in making my sculptures. Any artwork, in any form, must be transformed by materials into existence, and the budget to buy basic materials is a must.

When I create more, the budget undoubtedly would increase, and I need more space to house these sculptures. But these were only problems at the infant stage for me as a sculptor. Later on, I would encounter more complicated issues as I wanted to make multi-media works.

Today multi-media work is a result of teamwork, implying a series of communication with man and society. Sometimes dealing with the technical aspects of an artwork are like one’s emotional quotient to communicate with people.

For many fresh sculpture department graduates, working on public sculptures is one way to earn a living. Did you ever involve yourself with such projects?

A: Yes, I did. But I was not good at making these public sculptures. In other words, I did so poorly that almost nobody approached me later.

In your eyes, what are the basic elements for a capable sculptor? Which is more important, one’s technical abilities or one’s ideas?

A: A capable sculptor is one who creates capable works. Both technique and idea are important. Sometimes an idea needs to be implemented only through the expression of complicated and professional technique. They are not contradictory and should not be viewed separately.

You seem to understand the materials you use, especially stainless steel. Stainless steel is nothing new in making sculptures. Renowned Chinese sculptors like Zhan Wang and Sui Jianguo have already used stainless steel to great effect. How does stainless steel inspire you?

A: Stainless steel is good in terms of flexibility and corrosion resistance. It has a great gloss. Also stainless steel is convenient to cut with lasers. So a large number of my artworks are based on stainless steel. Stainless steel is a kind of metal and I wanted to transform its heaviness into something light. What’s left is a reconstruction of the material itself.

You studied at art academies in Shenyang, Beijing and Paris. Which place influenced you most and why?

A: Let me put it this way. What “damaged” my previous values most was studying in Paris. Everything I believed in China was questioned there. I realized that what I had depicted in the past decade was actually based on a matrix created by others. For many years, I was accustomed to accepting any suggestion proposed by my teachers. I never questioned them. So I found that I had some mistakes in basic logics.

The boundaries between sculpture and public art are often blurred. A piece of sculpture often needs to be created or adjusted to suit its environment. When making your own sculptures, will you consider the space they will be displayed?

A: For me, space is akin to a temple and sculpture is like Buddha. I find this is a perfect comparison. When someone is making a Buddha, he must know the conditions and space inside a temple.

Your artworks mostly deal with themes of emptiness. I am curious about how you understand the concept of emptiness at your age.

I often describe myself as a “giant Confucianist with a child’s face.” It might sound weird especially when considering my age. For example, I always prefer to use water as a theme for my works. Water is tender yet strong, which could also applies to the explanation of Taoism. I am interested in fusing these things into my works.

Which sculptors do you admire?

A: Currently it’s Anish Kapoor and Olafur Eliasson.



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