Overlapping of Cultural Spaces ---- on Pan Song's Sculpture

Yin Shuangxi
Professor, China Central Academy of Fine Arts
Editor-in-chief, China Sculpture

Young sculptor Pan Song, upon his graduation from the Sculpture Department, Academy of Arts & Design of Tsinghua University, began teaching sculpture in Beijing Institute of Fashion technology. As the one born in the 1970's, he is lucky compared with his peers, for his life and art experiences are interrelated harmoniously: he has such a stable job that he needn't worry about the means of living and that guarantees him a good creation environment. However, different from those former sculptors, he is in an age when China is undergoing tremendous transformation which leads to unprecedented changes in cultural surroundings and artistic thoughts, and as a result the young artists are shocked and bewildered under such great impact ---- art to them is no long restraint for breakthrough, but confusion to make an option. Fortunately, Pan Song does not get lost in the so-called modern artistic trend of chasing novelty; instead, he keeps feet on the ground and gropes his unique way ahead.

The establishment of his symbolic image in the contemporary Chinese sculpture is inseparable from the ""Ni Shang" or "Rainbow Fashion" series, his representative works for the latest national grand sculpture exhibition. His works tend to associate human figure with apparel, exploring the combination of art and fashion, sculpture creation and fashion design. Accordingly, Pan Song in his "Rainbow Fashion" series adopts such techniques used in sculpture creation as plastic arts and colors, materials and textures, deformation and exaggeration, and initiates some visual forms and language elements coincident in both sculpture art and fashion art such as softness and hardness, lightness and weight, emotion and stillness. Just as Mr. Wu Hongliang puts it, "he takes the initiative and adopts 'fashion' as the topic to create sculpture artworks, which is rare in China."

The post-modern culture is featured by emphasizing multi-cultures and advocating the concept of art in its broad sense. And the contemporary art in the 20th century is characterized by cross-over and hybrid of different types of arts, comprehensive combination of various artistic forms and materials. Many famous modern architects and fashion designers are apt to derive their inspiration from sculpture figures and textures; Pan Song, however, adopts the converse reflection. Working in Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, the most influential fashion art teaching and designing center in China, enables him to attend world-class fashion art lectures, watch the first-class runway shows. He intoxicates himself in sensing and comprehending fashion art and tries to associate them with his sculpture knowledge and framework, probing the possibility of a harmonious merger of techniques typically adopted in fashion design with that in sculpture creation. Just as Pan Song explains, "Fashion design, regarded contemporarily as an art of vision and space, is an art of painting to some extent, three-dimensional sculpture and in itself a gesamtkunstwerk of multi-artistic forms and elements as well. Just because of the common ground shared by sculpture and fashion design, there is no longer any clear-cut division between them in my head."
The creation of "Rainbow Fashion" series is based on his years of study on human body sculpture. Generally, apparel is regarded as a cultural cover on human body, symbolizing the evolution of human civilization. However, some culture anthropology studies suggest that clothes, to certain people and in certain area, is a way to exhibit human figures, by means of which human body's details, outlines, contours and gestures are emphasized, thus arousing audience's imagination and passion. The same as the Chinese idiom suggests "try to cover something up only to make it more conspicuous".

"Overlapping of cultural spaces", a feature of Pan Song's sculpture works, is an art concept with post-modern quality, which in my eyes is what set Pan Song apart from those former sculptors. The contemporary growth of sculpture art in China has been stereotyped by western academic education of sculpture that concerns much about the space volume and figure features. Consequently, Chinese sculptors have long focused their eyes on the objects of portrait in front of them, namely the human body models, over-emphasizing structures, perspective drawing, anatomical physiology and such scientific values as exact contour, three-dimension capacity, however overlooking the cultural concepts and historical values implied by sculpture images. The said academic stereotypes, in company with the aesthetic value formed herein, confine most sculptors to body language system. When entering the contemporary art context of "discourse" and "concept", sculptors will naturally become puzzled: it is a hot issue how to transform the portrait object of human body into a medium of expression with contemporary cultural characteristics.

In fact, we may regard those sculpture works of figure in both Chinese and foreign art histories as kind of "cultural symbols" which demote people's aesthetic consciousness. The interpretation and decoding of those sculpture works in different nations' cultures will give us access to the evolution of respective aesthetic consciousness. Keenly aware of that, Pan Song's interpretation of "symbol" is quite purified, i.e. staying away from partial "speculation" and externalizing one's internal thoughts. "Symbol" is the language he adopts to express his opinions.

A comparative study on Chinese and foreign figure statues will give us a profound understanding. In the history of western sculptures, the figure statues associated with figures and clothing may be dated back quite earlier. A clay statue "Woman", height 33cm, now private collection of Bourno could be traced back to 3000 BCE. The figure is upright and buxom, the waist slender while the bottom full with a flowing curve. A faience figurine "Snake Goddess", height about 30cm, today exhibited at the Herakleion Archeological Museum in Crete, dates from approximately 1600 BCE. Holding two snakes in her raised hands,with a small cat perched on her head, the goddess wears a tight bodice which left the breasts bare, a long flounced skirt with embroidered or woven decoration. The goddess is depicted as mysterious and cool beauty. A chryselephantine sculpture "Maid", today collected in Delphi Archaeological museum, dates back as early as 6th century AD. It adopts gold and ivory which forms a sharp contrast of textures and colors. Most ancient western statues are carved out of stones which are so heavy that figure statues tend to be created upright and solemn. Generally, western sculptures tend to highlight human bodies, while clothing is merely served as making bodies stand out, as representative found in the Main panel "Aphrodite rising from the sea" of Ludovisi Throne, which is now conserved at the Museo Nazionale Romano of Palazzo Altemps, Rome. The goddess, in clinging diaphanous draperies, is depicted superbly with a sexual figure.

As a Chinese poem goes, "I think of her silver clothing at the sight of drifting clouds and her stunning appearance at the sight of flowers". As for Pan Song, he adopts the expression of figure creation, textures and colors in western sculptures, with no intentional emphasis on denoting fashion models' figure beauty. It is a fact that in modern fashion design and fashion show, more emphasis is put on a comprehensive chic taste conveyed by fashion models in certain types of clothes accompanied by colors and textures of clothes as well as stage illumination and background music, rather than on the figures and facial expressions of individual models. That is the common ground we may find between ancient Chinese sculpture and modern fashion design, namely, vividness-esteemed. Taking as an example of "Colored Pottery Female Figure" collected in Shaanxi History Museum. What attracts us is its contour: standing still, hands crossed on the belly, loose-fitting robe hung freely and naturally, the figure resembles a copper bugle placed well on the table, smooth and flowing lines suggesting motionless mobility. Contrary to the static expression of sculptures, mobility of fashion shows is created by dynamic combination of lines. When a couple of fashion models appear on the runway stage simultaneously or successively, an amazing panorama is demonstrated in front of us pretty akin to "the Scroll of Eighty-seven Celestial Beings", an ancient Chinese masterpiece of painting. Just as Mr. Wu Hongliang comments, "The integration of fashionable elements into sculpture is in reality a process of transforming fashionable culture into classic one, for which Pan Song has made a breakthrough. The dialogue between fashion and sculpture is made through an art language. Seeking for a concept transformation of fashion design into pure art, Pan Song possesses his unique way of interpretation."

Gradually, Pan Song has become aware that it is not that difficult to create figures in sculptures, but creating ones with features and fashion tastes of the time calls for a brand-new symbol. Bearing these in mind, he begins exploring the forms corresponding in clothes: styles and patterns of clothes and accessories, figures and proportions of human bodies, softness and thickness of various textures… such elements, seldom taken into consideration during the traditional sculpture creation, nevertheless becoming his deliberations. In terms of presenting clothes' colors, he has tried different materials and textures in order to achieve a brand-new visual effect in sculpture. Besides the commonly-adopted bronze, many other materials such as cast iron, lacquer, gold, silver and platinum have been testified and adopted, as well as been the after-creation craftwork. In creating and appreciating each work, he discovers that different materials may possibly convey different feelings: plain, gorgeous, cool, mysterious, and so on. Naturally, fashion design and sculpture creation come to resonate well in his works with a fantastic effect.

Pan Song's "Rainbow Fashion" series reflect two aspects of his art pursuit or art concept: one is in pursuit of the most expressive art "symbols" to denote his true feelings and emotions and such symbols are no longer simplistic or stylistic art forms; the other one is in pursuit of the overlapping points of contemporary western sculptures and traditional Chinese cultures while exploring their differences, through which he approaches the heart of Chinese culture step by step.

In recent years, Pan Song continues and enriches his creation of "Rainbow Fashion" series. In addition, he explores deep into the core of Chinese history and culture, displaying his great art foresight and culture ambition. Take as an example the large-scale public art "Harmony Forests" which is located on the east of Jinshui Avenue in Zhengzhou City, Henan Province. The bucket arches on the column pillars of ancient palace are akin to stems growing out of big tree trunks that are simple and upright. With a contrast formed by the straight lines of solid pillars with the smooth curves of bucket arches, a salute is made to Chinese ancient architecture. Surrounding cement jungles presenting a picture of prosperity, while ancient style constructions exhibiting an extension of history, it reflects the life of the city as well as the growth of nature; it is a monument in honor of Chinese culture as well as a symbol of our nation's vitality. When lights are shooting on the "Forests" at night, the textures of pillars become conspicuous, displaying a scene of golden jungles. Lines and curves of the bucket arches, in company with decorative patterns on bronze wares, are in memory of Zhengzhou which was once the capital of Shang Dynasty and the origin of bronze cultures as well.

Pan Song's latest work "Home" shows us a man standing under a roof, which demonstrates volumes and constructions frequently appeared in western sculptures as well as lines and framework as in traditional Chinese calligraphy. A three-dimensional human figure supported by construction with tenon-and-mortise work is so much like upturned eaves and slope roofs in ancient architectures. The way of writing the Chinese character "home" in Jia-Gu-Wen, the Inscriptions on Tortoise Shells and Bones, is like a pig under the roof. In the past, emperors and nobles would build "temples" as places of worship after their death; ordinary peoples, however, could not afford that, but to worship their ancestors at "home" with pigs as shrine offerings. Thus, "Home" is evolved into the place of residence. Pan Song's work "Home" is not merely a reproduction of traditional Chinese calligraphy in forms of sculpture, but to derive soul from traditional Chinese cultures so as to seek for spatial construction and expression with Chinese characteristics. As for his work "Deer", it is a combination of abstract lines with wood, both suggesting the structures of Jia-Gu-Wen and the framework of ancient Chinese wood architectures, as well as certain image of dragon. His latest "Pu" series, though still in exploring stage, has unfolded aesthetic charm with oriental taste. Characteristic of bucket arches of Chinese ancient construction and the renowned stone arch bridge ---- Zhaozhou Bridge, the "Pu" series basically adopt the tenon-and-mortise structure but enrich it with innovative sense and traditional Chinese calligraphy taste. Solid as rock but swift as bird, with vigorous backbone and overwhelming spirit, sculpture works resembles finalized clerical scripts as found in Zhang Qian Stele, which was characterized as "Pu Hou Jin Xiu, Fang Zheng Duo Bian" (formal in composition, regular in stroke placement, and dignified in expression), just as Lao Tzu asserted in his Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Jing) that people should "Jian Su Bao Pu" (manifest plainness and embrace simplicity). "Pu" is the Chinese pinyin, which means plainness and simplicity with profound connotation and inborn talents, staying away from artificial and pretentious decoration. It is from here that Pan Song draws his inspiration about his "Pu" series.

To our gratification, Pan Song's works unfold that the Chinese artists born in the 1970s have turned their sights to the heart of Chinese history of culture, perceiving our ancestors' artistic temperament of regress to nature, which surpasses the material desire to be in more harmony with Mother Nature. I sincerely hope an increasing number of young artists may become aware of that, try to explore profound Chinese culture as well as its value for contemporary people's spiritual life so as to rejuvenate Chinese culture during its smooth transformation from ancient to modern. It is in the creation of "Rainbow Fashion" and "Pu" series that Pan Song tries searching for, between the traditional and the modern, a spiritual communication, transcending space and time and focusing on the image creation which embodies traditional Chinese spirits and style. Originated in classical philosophy, nourished by Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism ideologies, the traditional Chinese art, with its typical oriental aesthetics and tastes and as kind of "collective unconsciousness", has merged well into and become an inseparable part of the domestic Chinese culture. Pan Song tries to sense with heart this "ancient art", its innate spirits as well as mysterious tranquility.

In the 21st century, when the economic growth of China and that of western countries are well-matched, a fresh perspective is in need for understanding the values of and relations between oriental and western cultures. Sensitive to that, Pan Song, an artist, reacts with his creation. Although in need of improvement and advancement, Pan Song's works have demonstrated his thirst for Chinese nation's aesthetic charm and his pursuit of oriental culture identity, which is of great significance and cultural value. As for Pan Song and his peers, sculpture creation is a spiritual activity that explores unknown while pursuing ideal, is an interpretation for the current world with one's intuition and judgment. Having merged into Pan Song's life, sculpture presents vividly his ideology and outlooks. Admiring and appreciating Pan Song's achievement in his creation, curious about his upcoming and future works, I sincerely expect that he will stick to his humanistic ideals, fling off all restraints of reality, unfold his perspective on the contemporariness with his creative works, as well as involve himself in the transformation of Chinese sculpture.

<< Back to List