Craft and Art — the cultivation of the silent

People’s dependence and closeness to wood may be due to the wood itself.

Wet wood elements, low-key and delicate. Its fresh, simple and comfortable natural attributes make people feel the vitality of nature anytime and anywhere. Natural and free patterns can always accommodate other materials. Combine them with glass, metal, marble, etc. to achieve a balance between warm and cold, more affinity, and a touch of artistic beauty.

It can be seen from this that wood occupies an extremely important position in the hearts of ancient Chinese people. It is the foundation of agriculture and a habitat. Chinese wood carving originated in the Neolithic Age and has a long history of traditional skills. It reached its peak during the Ming and Qing dynasties in China, when such famous woodcarving masters as Pu Cheng, Zhu Ying, Wang Shuyuan, Jiang Chunbo, and Kong Mou appeared during that period.

Under the influence of Chinese literati, wood carving has gradually departed from the realm of practical woodworking and has become a kind of artistic creation material for literati artists to express their emotions and sway inspiration, thus developing a unique, complex and amazing woodcarving technique. However, due to historical reasons at the end of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic of China, the decline of national power at that time and the social environment of the people’s lack of livelihood caused the development of wood carving art to shrink. Woodcarving artists gradually become craftsmen to survive, and woodcarving returns from art to craftsmanship.

After the reform and opening up, the rapid development of China’s economy and the protection of folk crafts by the state gave wood carvings a good room for development. However, this is only the protection and restoration of carving skills, but it is difficult to grow further. With the development of mechanical technology, machines have the ability to complete finer carvings and higher production efficiency, and manual wood carving gradually comes to the edge of art and culture. Nowadays, while a piece of ink and wash on paper or oil on canvas can be sold for tens of millions, contemporary woodcarving is difficult to enter the secondary market, and it is also difficult to perform well in the primary market. Unstable market pricing and shoddy machine imitation are the main factors restricting the development of woodcarving art.

For the field of contemporary sculpture and installation art that explore the relationship between three-dimensional modeling and space, it could originally provide high-quality growth soil for woodcarving art. At present, a trend of innovating traditional materials is also emerging among the contemporary artists. The combination of comprehensive materials and multimedia has become the current mainstream innovation. It seems that the entire art circle has written the label of “crafts” on wood carving and entered the cold palace. Wood carving cannot become the art of the moment, it is the voice of many people.

However, there is such an artist who seems to have not noticed these sounds.

Zhou Ning graduated from Shandong University of Arts in 1994. When he was in school, he was full of interest in new-wave art. Not only did he learn oil painting, but he also tried the combination of ink and braille. He also studied pottery and plaster. After graduation, he became a teacher and welcomed the first batch of more than twenty talented “special” students. These students can neither hear the sound nor communicate. Zhou Ning has no idea how to guide these students to study art. From hesitation to contemplation, from fantasy to reality, Zhou Ning decided that instead of teaching these students “art”, it is better to teach them “technique”. Maybe in the future these students can use this “skill” to make a living.

So Zhou Ning put down the paintbrush and picked up the carving knife. This is 20 years. At first, the reason for choosing woodcarving was simple, because wood is the easiest material to obtain. How to make these students survive by this “skill” has become his main thinking direction. After three years of teaching, he collected the works of these students for a graduation exhibition at the National Art Museum of China. It was very successful and 6 works were collected. A few years later, parents of students complained that their children could not find a job. Without much thought, the “Mantra” wood carving studio was established in 1997, and several students were recruited to create in the studio.

In 1999, Zhou Ning resigned as a teacher and returned to the countryside. Subsequent exhibitions, art museums, galleries, overseas exhibitions and other countless exhibitions did not bring too many changes to life. He still carved wood. When instructing deaf students, students are also influencing Zhou Ning. At the beginning, he cared about the feedback from the market and the evaluation of the outside world. Gradually, he put everything behind him, as if he couldn’t hear the voices outside.

The modeling language of this series of works records the vicissitudes of life, and also tells his life: from true and false, to recognizing fantasy and letting go of ego. In the sound of a knife and knife, a piece of log carved out the soul awakening.
——Excerpt from “Engraving and Imaging”

“Feel the nature, communicate with the world” these words that seem to only appear in the novel actually happened to Zhou Ning. The sculpture life in the country for more than two decades was like a blink of an eye to him.

Learned to endure loneliness, learned to endure loneliness, in a “silent” space, while carving wood, it is also carving Zhou Ning’s heart. It doesn’t matter the material, it doesn’t matter the trend, every moment and every painting in Zhou Ning’s art becomes art.