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The Guilin Yuzi Paradise

By Enrico Pedrini

The Yuzi Paradise Sculpture Park surrounded by mountains of Guilin.

At the Yuzi Paradise Sculpture Park in Guilin, sculpture interacts with a unique mountainous environment: huge granite marble structures project from the plain to create imposing peaks standing straight up like dense, massive sculptures. It’s a fantasy landscape of peculiar peaks. The mountains are partially covered with vegetation that thrives amid the gorges of the rocky formations. Never symmetrical, they create a sequence of rocky elements that seem to converse with one another. Fairytale turreted castles stand in contrast to menacing lunar peaks. Nature here is rife with mystery, amazing visions and enchantment.

The center of the sculpture park itself is a huge architectural structure made up of obliquely connected parts. Made by Taiwanese artist Shiau Jon-Jen, the structure makes us feel as if we were watching the waves breaking along the shore. Sculptures are located all around the valleys and beside ponds in the park. Other works are peeping from a pine forest, behind the branches, thus creating a highly suggestive environment. The overall construction of the park will take 30 years, and is divided into two phases. The first phase is a 10-year project–started in 1999– based on the existed geographical features. The International Sculpture Park is the main body, surrounded by living and working area, art village, art salon, teaching and demonstration center, and an open-air theater and spiritual center.

The project is in keeping with the initial desire of the founder, Taiwanese entrepreneur Rhy-Chang Tsao, to coordinate the elements of art and culture with the natural environment in a well-balanced harmony. The park therefore represents a personal aesthetic vision, finding in nature the central element of life and in art the expression of spirituality. While nature can change our senses, according to Taoist philosophy, art is given the task of training our intellectual sensitivity through geometric shapes that inform perception.

The Chinese seem less concerned than Western museums with exhibiting unique pieces. What prevails here is the pedagogic and demonstrative purpose of the park as a training project. In this way the sculptures sustain an idea, which means that personal vision becomes public and social as well. A soft and delicate music always accompanies the visitors strolling through the park and immerses them in a rarefied and spiritual atmosphere.

One sculpture stands out, echoing an important theme for Taiwanese and Chinese sculptors: the search for a new metaphysics. One aspect of this search involved taking an everyday object, enlarging to almost absurd proportions, and crystallizing it into marble. In the process, objects lose the consistency of the stuff they are made of, which would often be soft or flexible, to become solidified in stone. The objects become symbols, immortalized by marble that won’t corrode over time.

Two gigantic sneakers which Taiwanese artist Tsai Ken titled I left my shoes in Guilin. The artist’s presence is often felt lingering in the park, as part of his clothes, made here in marble, bring him to mind. It’s the game of metonymy that represents the part for the whole, transforming the meaning of shoes.

We find the same process in the work of Zhang Naiwen, in which the enlarged image of an armchair and its footrest become an imposing out-of-scale marble monument. Daily life becomes a poetic metaphor, and an object from the artist’s home is a crystallized image, locked in time. A similar monumentality exudes from Chinese artist Zhu Yu sculpture of a piece of clothing, such as a jacket and a hat, as fixed witnesses that will endure for centuries. Granite provides the opportunity to fix expressive shapes in definite forms, engraving them so that the thought that inspired them will never be modified with the passage of time.

Marvin Minto Fang’s Dining Outdoors work with a similar idea of enlargement and endurance: the artist produces an interaction between nine large marble spoons with onion plants growing from them. The spoons, realized in large dimensions, become strangely iconic.

I also found myself seduced by the sculptures of Ju Ming, who places human figures around a picnic table, representing people who belong to a family group. Such forms, realized in marble in natural sizes and colored by the artist to give them a more realistic dimension, assume the role of actors on a stage, beckoning visitors to stop and share a few moments of rest and reflection. Inside the gallery, contained in the main building, Redxing, a young Chinese artist, substitutes advertizing images with her photographic self-portrait, sometimes interacting with elements of decoration she takes from traditional Chinese culture.

These artists are building a metaphoric elsewhere, offering us possible elements of a new metaphysics, and leading us to fantastical realm of interacting landscape and architecture.

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