Flora Konz ’25 (She/Her)
Two weeks ago, Davidson’s art department dedicated Zhan Wang’s Artificial Rock #119 with a ceremony at Wall Terrace. Cort Savage, chair of the Art Department and a sculptor himself, introduced the piece as a work of art that “you will never fully see.” The ancient scholar and garden rocks of China’s Han dynasty inspired Artificial Rock #119, embodying mountains, openness, and a site for contemplation of eternal wisdom. The sculpture maintains a contemporary, polished, and cracking stainless steel surface that “references a state of constant change” and “ephemeral flux,” said Savage. The form is defined and comprehensible, but as the viewer and light shift, the sculpture transforms into “ever greater complexity.”
Sculpted by Beijing-based photographer, video artist, and sculptor Zhan Wang, Artificial Rock #119 embodies an evolution of Wang’s stainless steel city-scapes. Through his art, Wang shows the danger of destroying the continuity of tradition. By creating a facsimile through this sculpture, Wang continues contemplating and examining the loss of tradition. The pieces of the Artificial Rock series were made by moving stainless steel sheets onto garden and scholars’ rocks to cast copies of the original objects in an empty form. Rosaline Kyo, Assistant Professor of Art and Chinese studies, elaborated on Wang’s choice of creating casts of these rocks: they belong to an almost 2000-year-old Chinese tradition that involved collecting special rocks to embellish gardens. They were appreciated for their “unusual, strange, and interesting” characteristics.
Kyo described how the perforated surfaces of Artificial Rock #119 suggest age and antiquity, and the overlapping layers and planes imply depth of field so the viewer is looking at a “microcosm of a universe.” This effect encourages the viewer to see the natural world from multiple perspectives and contemplate how local action can have a global impact.
The presence of this sculpture on campus is significant for its message about climate change and its creation by a Chinese artist. As Davidson’s President, Carol Quillen, explained, it “invites us to perceive the world around us in new ways,” bringing these “new categories of perception to the fields of inquiry in which we are engaged.” Through this piece, the Davidson community is “constantly challenged and provided with opportunities to reframe what we’ve inherited.” The sculpture was installed in honor of Siri and J. Gill Holland Sr., Professor Emeritus of English, who, Quillen stated, taught inspirationally and with the creativity Davidson strives for; hopefully, this work of art will “provoke something like that creativity and inspiration” at Davidson.
With this sculpture’s presence, the idea of remaining static “ceases to be a possibility,” according to Savage. This piece parallels Davidson’s goal of engaging intersecting disciplines, throwing ourselves into them with “unbound creativity” and the “joyful intellectual curiosity of a child.” It encourages Davidson community members to encounter their own biases and to search both the external world and our internal selves. “Artificial Rock #119 is Davidson College,” Savage explained; it challenges us with infinite uncertainties to reveal a universe of infinite possibilities.
Speakers also included art history major Sarah Zhang ‘23, who sees the sculpture as a “gesture of solidarity” toward the Asian and Asian-American community following the “hateful and racist rhetoric’’ scapegoating Asians and Asian-Americans for the COVID-19 pandemic. Zhang explained how the sculpture can’t represent the whole of these communities, but its installation on campus is, at the very least, “one step forward.” It’s a promise by the College to “appreciate diverse cultures and their heritage, [pushing] us outside of the Europe and Eurocentric view and inviting us to reflect on our own biases.” Artificial Rock #119 reminds Davidson of the Asian and Asian-American experiences that have been “erased, suppressed, and synthesized” into a model that can “calibrate” under the Western “gaze.” The surface of the sculpture shows a “distorted and amalgamated” world, contributing to the sculpture’s acknowledgment of the differences between us and inviting us to confront a culture different from the United States. Zhang concluded by saying how the sculpture offers a moment of “reflection,” reminding viewers to “scrutinize” their presence in the “world of nature, recognize the intersectionality of [their] identities, and introspect about their experiences.”
Flora Konz ‘25 (she/her) is an undeclared major from Asheville, NC. She can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.