Group Interview on the "Pu" Sculpture Series

Wu Hongliang, Director of Art Museum of Beijing Fine Art Academy
Tang Yao, Deputy Editor of China Sculpture, Curator
Pan Song, Director of Art Creation Department, China Sculpture Institute, Associate Professor
Time: 26 Nov., 2011
Venue: 798 China Sculpture Institute Salon

Tang Yao:
I think Pan Song's "Pu" Series, as far as he is concerned, is a brand-new orientation which is more language-based, more structuralized, with more emphasis on structure relationship and space language that is ushered into a concept of time by means of sculpture texture which is, instead of a replica, to duplicate textures of ages in sculpture language.
An important element worth mentioning of Pan Song's "Pu" Series is its language adopted is originated from traditional Chinese structures like tenon-and-mortise work and bucket arches as well as the Chinese calligraphy he's been practiced all the time, which unfold sharply in front of us an oriental image. Consider Foguang Temple in Mt. Wutaishan. The large-scale bucket arches of Tang Dynasty there are impressively spectacular with power and grandeur. Another example is found in the Upper and Lower Huayan Temple in Datong, Shanxi Province, where the bucket arches, though built much later than Tang Dynasty, equally impressed us with remarkable majesty. Deeply rooted in our far-reaching and profound Chinese traditions such as calligraphy and national construction, your space constitution is obviously different from those in the modern west, which I believe is an orientation of great potential. Pan Song's works do not merely imitate the forms of dovetail tenon-and-mortise or bucket arches, but initiated some changes which are kind of super-realistic and unexpected, which is to create surprising changes and contrasts in a rather stable and sustainable structures. I believe "Pu" series have stimulated your gifts and energy which will enable you to broaden your view and creative field.

Wu Hongliang:
As far as I see, "Pu" series are of architectural sense. It is true that quite a couple of artists have been inspired by construction elements such as bucket arches, but few like Pan Song could possibly created something with sense of architecture. To be exact, he doesn't simply adopt part of bucket arches into his works for which would probably resemble much of artistic handicrafts. Instead, he merges his inspiration drawn from architecture into sculpture with his own interpretation. In addition, we all have a dream. Every artist has a dream that is to make a bric-a-brac, that is a shelf sculpture work which is small in size but profound in meaning. Possibly succeed easily. On the contrary, many works are large in scale but blank in nature, which is quite frequently seen especially in shelf sculptures. However, "Pu" series, with their thickness and volume, impress us with strong sense of quality; their three-dimensional space is also impressive. Besides space volume, details are also elaborated on. Just now, Mr. Tang mentioned a reverse thinking mode. Sculptors are supposed to make bozzetto(mud-draft), make castings and so on; however, you assume the reverse thinking mode by curving objects out of the hard materials directly, then sculpting. In this way, handcrafted feeling is aroused to avoid simply creating handicrafts. By hand curving and sculpting, your works tend to be separated from the so-called modern sculptures that merely cut and combine blocks of wood, and to pour something lively into the lifeless process, namely, cutting of steel plates and assembling of columns or cylinders, the way generally adopted by western masters in sculpture. Also your works are endowed with oriental esthetic sentiment, especially, your esteemed charm of Han and Tang Dynasty, which had been the appreciation of beauty adopted by ancient literati ever since Song Dynasty. Now and again, we come across it in your works.
Chinese tend to make clear what you have created. As far as inheritance is concerned, what on earth has Qi Baishi inherited? He inherited characteristics of Ming and Qing Dynasty, namely, "Green Vine" (Pen name of Xu Wei, a Ming Chinese painter, poet, writer and dramatist famed for his artistic expressiveness, considered founder of modern Chinese painting)Baida Shanren(a Chinese painter of shuimohua and a calligrapher). Obviously, it could be traced back long ago. However, some artists trace back to as early as Song Dynasty. What about Pan Song? What you pursue is the charm dominated in Han and Tang Dynasties, which is earlier before the intellectual consciousness that we've been used to, also involved are some untamed nature, some inclusive energy as well as some vigorous power. How to juxtapose your series with today's modern art with respective images, and how to handle adaptation of new measures are problems with many interesting elements worth exploring. I personally believe that, just as Mr. Tang put it, this is a right direction with many opportunities and challenges as well. With seemingly simple combination, how could you create a kaleidoscopic effect? If you can produce a dozen, a score or even thirty pieces of works on the same topic, it indicates that this topic or orientation is inclusive with great adaptation and richness. It all depends on whether you are capable of establishing a whole new system with something like so-called strokes as in Chinese calligraphy. Your success lies in that you have found the right track which will bring out your unique character, which is very oriental and most valuable at present indeed. As the language we adopted today is not oriental in itself, you have tracked out therein the one that is compatible with oriental state in terms of mind, image and pursuit. So you make it.

Pan Song:
You two are invited to my studio the other day and offered me quite a lot of constructive suggestions. I've been thinking about them in the past month, really, hahaha… Personally, when it comes to sculpture creation, I prefer thinking about molding forms, because I believe it is a matter of basic concept of the artistic world. Truly, the ideological level determines the artistic level. As for sculpture, lack of molding means nothing. Why have our ancient architectural art, sculpture and painting art, as well as our calligraphy been so charming even though thousands of years have elapsed? Firstly, I believe it is because of the form. I've spent so many years in sketching, sculpting human bodies, learning anatomy, making clay sculpture, curving wood sculpture, drilling stone sculpture and so on. It is more out of the ceaseless exploration of plastic arts than out of my ceaseless thoughts of letting things taking their natural course.
Looking back to my studying experiences, I have been stemmed from the western sculpture system which endowed me with plenty of western sculpting skills. My frequent endeavors into public art field enable me to get familiar with techniques and measures necessary for creating large-scale sculpture works. As for the adoption of materials, I have also tried and tested many times as in sculpting "Ni Shang" Series. Thus, when it comes to traditional sculpting skills, I believe western academic education on sculpture have benefited me a lot.
It dawned on me when I was in my late 30s that I have to seek after something which is fundamentally artistic and which is what I have desired so much that I would readily devote myself to. Consequently, I began reflecting on myself rationally, only to find what I have been keen on is centered on our Chinese culture. Interesting and increasingly attractive, to me, it is more like an untapped "virgin earth". Why haven't I considered about it before? It is because that in the past several decades I failed to comprehend and comb at large the Chinese culture, failed to make more attempt at it with the misconception that I have done so. It turns out that the passion for sculpture is basically the passion for certain culture. Our country boasts abundant cultures which are deemed out-dated by some people only because they are ignorant of or fail to comprehend them as a whole.
Sometimes, while turning pages of ancient books, calling at ancient buildings, studying rubbings from stone inscriptions, having a look at inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells and visiting various museums, I always feel that I seem to strike a conversation with someone there. When it comes to sculpture, what comes first is still the problem of molding. Just follow your heart to make whatever you like, to express your true feelings with certain styles, that's it. I spent quite a few years visiting ancient buildings, temples and museums. As for Zhaozhou Bridge in Hebei Province, I've been there time and again to study its structure, its production and its craftsmanship. I wonder how a bridge made in Sui Dynasty could be so graceful, solid, functional, spectacular, charming, and so on. With so many advantages, it is no longer a bridge in my eyes but a masterpiece of sculpture indeed. I've also been to Foguang Temple and Nanchan Temple in Mount Wutai. I still remember the first time I saw Foguang Temple: climbing up the stairs, entering the grand palace, I was instantly overwhelmed by its grandeur and power, unable to speak a word. Another example is in 1990s when I was at college I had been to Qianling Mausoleum which was then in a primitive state. The Squatting Lion there were unforgettable because it was the first time I saw an outdoor sculpture. Even though it was merely a tomb sculpture of squatting lion, its masculine power and tremendous majesty, coupled with its barren and bleak surroundings, was so awesome that I even could feel my hair standing on end.
How could it be possible to strike me with not that large scale? There must be something there striking. Foguang Temple, and the side halls built in Jin Dynasty, as well as those architectures constructed using less pillars, all impressed me so much with great excitement. Such feelings have accompanied me for years but I failed to make out where to start my work, just spending years watching and pondering. Artistic works in Han and Tang Dynasty, as well as the calligraphy works and paintings in those period, are sources of our nation's culture, are outpouring of sincere emotions. And I found many interesting pictures in Li Jie's "Rules of Architecture"; with somewhat odd perspectives, they are anyhow marvelous. Then I decided to have a try.
What came first was the how to shape the form. The bucket arches of Foguang Temples and the dovetail tenon-and-mortise works of Zhaozhou Bridge are equally gorgeous; those stones, timbers of ancient constructions are weather-beaten but still solid and strong. All of them were scrambling in my head with no clear image to figure out. It so happened that one day when I was sketching with brush aimlessly while reading "Stele of Zhang Qian", scores of form structures appeared suddenly on the paper, and a couple of them were pretty good and acceptable. In this way, I set my foot on the road. With the first trouble tackled, I began to visualize my works, believing "well begun, half done".
Certain sculptures are supposed to be molded in certain style, which embodies some indescribable spirit. How should I upgrade the spirit and how to pursue it are what I've been studying. If something natural is adopted directly into my sculpting, it will not be artistic work in my eyes. I deem that it should be kind of artificial re-creation, with numerous handmade work involved like molding, striking, drilling and curving, to display a natural sense of history and grandeur. Also involved are pleasures of creating, for different combinations will turn out different effects which are beyond imagination. Sculpture elements, including texture creating and materials selecting to name a few, are adopted to realize some unique spirit, some style, which is my ultimate goal. Such things have been lingering in my head all the time. You two have encouraged me and kindly reminded me that this is a way which is hopeful, yet boring, hard and twisty, but I still believe it worth trying as long as I am interested in it. During this process, I've got much pleasure, which enriched my life, so I will pursue it sincerely.

Tang Yao:
When the concept of sculpture is concerned within the context of postmodernism, it becomes sculpture in a broad sense which overlaps more or less with other artistic field, such as ready-made, installation, or conceptual art. Thus some theorists assume that in the context of postmodernism, especially when conceptual art is ushered in, visual forms have become not that important, even optional or trivial.
As a sculptor, you have dedicated yourself to sculpting for scores of years, so it is necessary to have a hard core in your works, which is what you put it as molding style. I hold the belief that a well-educated sculptor should be equipped with the capability of molding in certain style, which is much like a painter with the ability of handling colors. Suppose a painter is given a piece of stone or wood to cut, what comes out will probably be something loose in structure and dull in style. What comes next is the sculptors' sense of space. Whatever we produce will take on a three-dimensional outlook. The third aspect worth mentioning is material texture. During the years of sculpting experiences, we have tried and adopted various materials. The dialogue and communication between hands and textures provide us with amazing feelings. Just now you mentioned that as a sculptor, lack of molding means nothing. It sounds kind of absolute. However, as a well-educated sculptor, you hold fast to such languages as molding style, sense of space and material texture, which turn out to appear naturally in your works as a hard core.
Based on this hard core, you unfold before us certain spirits of culture and philosophy. Today in our age, information is updated so fast that most youngsters would prefer things of vulgar taste or animation. In such a fashionable and a bit impulsive social background, the road Pan Song has persisted on is comparably hard. While the sculpting language you adopt is constructional and modernistic, the cultural setting you pursue is that of Han and Tang Dynasty, which calls for a profound cultural accomplishment such as copying rubbings from stone inscriptions and studying conserved ancient buildings. If you pursue deep into the essence of our culture where there exists much more profound sediment of cultural heritage, which will in turn broaden your view and mind, make you more robust and liberal, and lead you to a rather eternal setting. You are now in a stage which is hard but deserving, with a long way ahead. You are still young, and practicing calligraphy will accompany you life long. As the orientation you've set is far-reaching, you had better fit into the scheme step by step till you reach the spiritual level and become immersed in our glamorous culture. It is definitely no piece of cake. Wish you all the best on this road.

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