“In Chinese five-element theory I am a wood type. And the Shu in my name means tree.”

Born Yichang, Hubei, 1982

Song Jianshu sees himself as a mere assistant to the supreme artist, nature. All he does is to bring out the true character of her works. Coming across an uprooted locust tree, he was struck by the thought that while technically a tree, it was also mere wood—still part of the natural world, but ready to be shaped by man. For In the End (2010) he decided to retain both qualities, leaving the roots intact but shaving the trunk to a point. He too started out entirely natural, he says. And when society has finished with him, he will be carved and polished just like the tree.
The rosewood log of Hey, Baby (2010) was standing in the local timber market, offered at a discount because it had become waterlogged and the outer layers had parted from the core. After Song Jianshu got the log to his studio, he squared up the cracked exterior, which suddenly lifted like the lid of a box. “I felt like a pirate opening a treasure box,” he says. He polished the centre, bringing out its rich red colour, and charred the outside, making it look like an ancient relic. The work’s English title sounds like hei baobei—Chinese for “Hello, treasure”.

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