A couple of weeks back, I ran across these these two Fake Mountain Rocks enclosed in the glass atrium space at Madison Avenue. By Zhan Wang, they riff off the traditional, decorative rocks placed in scholars’ gardens. An excellent article, which you can read here by Wu Hong reflects upon Zhan’s work in terms of traditional culture and simulacral objects in contemporary China. Heedless of the binary between the authentic and the faze these supersized and expensive polished stainless steel things are the simulacra of a simulacrum, i.e. the mountain rock placed in a private green space. Zhan’s post-traditional figures have been given the sheer physical presence to stand out and maintain themselves in the hyper-modern urban metropolis. Simply on their own terms, they are molten and beautiful. It’s their complete irregularity that sustains our attention.
Wu Hong writes, “We must realize that to Zhan Wang, ‘glittering surface, ostentatious glamour, and illusory appearance’ are not necessarily bad qualities, and that his stainless-steel rocks are definitely not designed as satire or mockery of contemporary material culture. Rather, both the original rockeries and his copies are material forms selected or created for people’s spiritual needs; their different materiality suits different needs at different times. The problem he addresses is thus one of authenticity: Which rock- the original or his copy- more genuinely reflects contemporary Chinese culture? Interestingly, the Chinese call natural rockeries jia shan shi, or “fake mountain rocks.” According to Zhan Wang, such rocks, even if made of real stones, have truly become “fakes” when used to decorate a contemporary environment. But his stainless-steel rocks, though artificial, signify the “genuine” of our own time.”