“I don’t like hard, heavy materials … I prefer fine and delicate things.”

Born Yuxi City, Yunan, 1953

Say sculpture and most people think of something solid and opaque. Shi Jindian’s sculptures are made of steel, yet they are almost ethereal. After searching for years for “a material that was brand new, completely untraditional”, he settled on steel wires. By trial and error, he learned how to crochet the two-dimensional strands into three-dimensional forms using tools of his own devising. His wire meshes start out as wrappings around some common object. When the mesh is complete, Shi Jindian destroys or extracts the object, leaving only its steel “shadow”. The result, he says, is a kind of fiction, a virtual reality that can be walked around and touched. His Blue CJ750 (2008) is a replica of the Chiangjiang [Yangtze], a military bike based on an early BMW and for decades reserved for the military. Beijing Jeep’s Shadow (2007) translates the chassis of an army jeep into an object of pure contemplation, an airy fantasy—which a car long was for millions of Chinese. Each of the works is accurate to the smallest detail. They took years to make, but he found serenity in the toil. When people touch his sculptures, he says, they also touch “the state of mind that emerges from the labour of my hands: tranquillity and calm”.

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