“I sharpen an axe and drag branches into my studio, then I hack at them like a butcher.”

b.1980, Ningxiang, Hunan

Yang Xinguang has been carving wood since he was ten years old; more recently he has begun working with earth and stone. His deceptively simple works—which often seem at first glance to have been taken unaltered from field or forest—reflect on nature and civilisation and the commonalities and conflicts between them. “I try to understand the human through exploring nature,” he says. His approach has much in common with the mono-ha and arte povera movements, but he seldom adds anything; instead he chisels, pares and scrapes away the excess to reveal the forms hidden within his materials. He never starts a work with a predetermined concept, preferring to let one emerge through a combination of meditation and happenstance. With Cudgels (2008), he had no plan to carve giant bones, he says. But “after I’d been working on the branches for a while, the effect of bones appeared. It surprised me.” By transforming fallen branches into a pile of dry bones—or potential weapons—Yang Xinguang suggests that humanity is the death of nature, but also that we have far more in common with the natural world than we suppose.

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