scholar rocks a model for the imagination

I would purpose to briefly discuss an obscure yet traditional Chinese practice called ‘Gongshi’ or ‘scholar rocks’. The mysticism that surrounds Gonghsi has underpinned my practice throughout the second half of this year.

Chinese Scholar rocks could be described as Geological wonders of the natural world in minuscule scale. Although I would argue man has been drawn to the procurement of rocks since we as beings have had the consciousness to do so, this particular ‘fashion’ was founded over 1000 years ago during the Song dynasty China, as an appreciation and treasuring of unusual natural form. It was a way of artists/scholars to obtain art in natures image and acquire a slice of the environments extended self-portrait in miniature. The rocks themselves were procured for a variety of different reasons and firstly ‘It was said that a garden could not be beautiful without such rare rocks, and that a studio lacked elegance without Gongshi (Kemin 2017)’. Gongshi would often resemble Mountainous landscapes, land forms, figures and worlds within worlds.

The scholar rocks themselves were presented upon carved wooden stands, you could purpose this as jubilant appropriation from wild landscape to tame enclosure. These rocks were often dictums of Chinese landscape painting, “The rocks were chosen for awkwardness (overhanging asymmetry), resonance (rings when struck), representation (resemblance to landscape or figure), wrinkling (heavy or subtle texture) and moistness (glossy and tactile surface)” (Mendelsohn 1996). Due to these favoured characteristics Over time particular aesthetics were supplementary to the image of the scholar rock’s, this then led to a sculptural intervention. The interventions were so subtle they were often indistinguishable from the rocks natural authenticity.

Over time, the rocks then began to be sculpted from clay and the art form manifested much like the Chinoiserie style; The original design or procurement is of a great contrast to the substitute or re-representation. In modern society The ready made assists the sculpturally inspired form to craft a postmodern juxtaposition between original and simulacrum simultaneously. It is often as previously discussed challenging to deduce natural from unnatural. (Mendelsohn 1996).


It is easy to see from the image featured above (Cave of the Heremit Fu-Sheng”, Ying stone) why the rocks themselves were sought after with great connoisseurship. Valued for there intrinsic physical and visual virtues it is here that western perceptions of abstraction intersect principles that the Chinese scholars prized. The rocks themselves stand president to the integrity to which abstract sculpture aspired to. Regardless of environmental situation the peculiarity, beauty and elegance of the scholar rocks simply lie in the subjective elucidations and assumptions of what these objects could be, through ambiguity they have an incredible amount of imaginative potential and allow a variety of interpretations.


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