By REENA JANA
Successfully incorporating both highly personal and traditional art-historical references, Chinese American artist Hilda Shen creates sculptures and paintings that are at once meditative and dynamic. Here, Shen presented three-dimensional paper, ink, and wax constructions that immediately evoked Chinese scholars’ rocks – the dramatically shaped stones first collected in China during the Song dynasty as esthetic objects of contemplation. They also recalled Shen’s own landscape paintings, with their suggestions of cliffs and mountains and various other organic formations.
Created from paper covered with enlarged black-and-white fingerprint patterns and brushstrokes, and stiffened with wax in crumples and folds, the sculptures reflected on human intervention both in manipulating the shapes of scholars’ rocks and in developing the natural landscape. RockWhirl (2003), a highly theatrical composition in which one front edge of the sculpture rests on a real stone, elegantly addresses the artist’s quest to find balance between the natural and the man-made.
Orb II (2003) strayed from Shen’s usually idiosyncratic forms. Here she emphasizes the fingerprint pattern on the surface, and the paper is meticulously crumpled into a nearly perfect sphere, suggesting the human desire to shape the world according to ideals, while nodding to the beauty inherent in the simplest of things, such as a sheet of paper crushed into a neat ball before being discarded.
In two engaging site-specific pieces (Keep In/Keep Out and The Lost Ones, both 2003) Shen attached fingerprint images onto the gallery’s walls (some were transferred directly onto the surfaces, others were photocopied images pinned to the walls). These reference the Great Wall and the anonymous hands that erected it, while the fingerprints imply the uniqueness of those hands and, by extension of all our imprints.