Gu Wenda

#Gāo Shān Yǎng Zhǐ


Gu Wenda is an influential contemporary Chinese artist celebrated for merging traditional ink painting and experimental installations. Gu has developed a personal vocabulary of invented Chinese characters by misplacing various aspects of existing characters to create new and meaningful words. This tactic, among others, is Gu Wenda's means to subvert tradition while using its formal attributes.

Our team in China collaborated with Gu Wenda and his studio to deliver his work for Shanghai Library East. Gu Wenda's iconic Confucian stones, ' Ru rocks' are inscribed with High Mountain (gāoshān) and Looking Up (yǎngzhǐ) and stand in the Knowledge Square at the main entrance, facing each other. The two stones combine to create a Chinese idiom that means to behold a great mountain or other admirable figures of greatness and pay homage to both the grandeur of civilisation and the humility of the visitor. 

Ru rocks come from five hundred million years ago in Shandong province, the homeland of Confucianism. Gu visited Shandong a few times as he finalises the look and design to find the best stone. When making works of art, the artist found many fossils in pieces of stone and kept them as part of the artwork when carving strokes into the rock. The making process included Gu drawing strokes on the stone surface, removing the excess stone by carving, and finally polishing the strokes.

Civilization is the high mountain, and we are the climbers going upwards with awe. The stone used here is from Shandong, the origin of Confucianism, hence the stone’s name is “Confucian Stone”. Jianci is the soul of many of my works, which is a kind of word-for-character technique that often consists of two Chinese characters to form a word. When carved in the form of an engraving, Jianci is wrapped around the stone. The stone is then ground into ink and chiseled and ground in accordance with the brush strokes of the short word, making a heavy, clear, and dark ink, as if returning to nature.

-Gu Wenda

We are very honored to witness the presentation of another masterpiece by Mr. Gu Wenda at Shanghai Library East. From the creation of the simple words "high mountain" and "Yangzhi", to the selection of the form of two Confucian stones, to the meticulous consideration of the engraving process. From beginning to end, we can feel Mr. Gu Wenda's profound understanding of Chinese culture, his dedication to the perfection of public art, and the unique romance of his visual totems that integrate the ancient and modern.

-Jerome Huang, Associate

Image Credit: Artwork image and video courtesy of RAWVISION studio, the artist, Shanghai Library and galleries

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#Project summary


Gu Wenda

Artwork Title

Gāo Shān Yǎng Zhǐ


Shanghai Library East


Shanghai Library




Shanghai, China



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