Metal Shadows of Rock

You may have seen from my Facebook status that I am lucky enough to be blogging from the British Museum today! 

This is such a wonderfully rich and inspiring atmosphere, but with so many amazing objects it can be overwhelming. So today I set myself a task to find and learn about just one single object in depth to share with you.

Squeak! Carved netsuke decoration at The British Museum.

Squeak! Carved netsuke decoration at The British Museum.


Finding myself in the Chinese gallery, my attention was immediately drawn to a table of objects you could handle along with a friendly guide to explain their provenance. Amongst them a beautiful little netsuke mouse was curled into a shy ball and an ancient jade pendant was worn smooth in a shape of a fish, still perfect after thousands of years. But these were not the objects for my mission for today. I was surrounded by so many cabinets of intricate, exquisite treasures it took the sight of something completely different to made me stop in my tracks. It was a large shiny silver object, appearing amidst the antiquities as if it had fallen straight from another world and into the museum. But there was no visible hole in the roof or debris where this alien object had crash landed. And here it was this piece of sci-fi, presented carefully on a traditionally carved wooden plinth. This was a sculpture by the artist Zhan Wang.

Artificial Rock, number 82 by Zhan Wang. Polished stainless steel

Artificial Rock, number 82 by Zhan Wang. Polished stainless steel


"In the past, collectors displayed craggy rocks on their desks as objects of aesthetic appreciation. The rocks also allude to the mystic of mountains that were thought to be dwellings for men of pure thought."

Another steel sculpture by Zhan Wang - the artist also calls them "floating stones" .

Another steel sculpture by Zhan Wang - the artist also calls them "floating stones" .


Chinese scholars collected and revered unique rocks with beautiful shapes created through natural erosion. By displaying them in their working surroundings for their aesthetic value they also wished to be reminded of the mysticism of the mountains where men of "pure thought" were supposed to dwell. Their sculptural forms displaying positive and negative space were so admired that artisans tried to reproduce copies of these rocks in various materials, including jade, glass, and ceramic.

Zhan Wang forms his sculptures by moulding sheets of stainless steel around real rock formations. 

The artist says; "The material’s glittering surface, ostentatious glamour, and illusory appearance make it an ideal medium to convey new dreams.''


Zhan has also created his own personal universe by recording the sound made by exploding a giant boulder. Read more here

Zhan Wang's work often uses the use of simplistic object that serve a purpose of telling a complex idea. By using the industrial material stainless steel Zhan perfectly captures the organic shape of the original scholars rocks he forms his pieces around but with it's eerily perfect finish, too shiny for nature it's purpose is still that of internal as well as external reflection.



Designpanoptikum - Surrealist Museum For Industrial Objects

The truth of objects: is it weirder than science fiction?

Designpanoptikum - surreales Museum für industrielle Objekte glass bubble head.JPG

 Russian photographer Vlad Korneev's sculptures provide an eerie environment throughout the 10 rooms of his Designaoptikum allowing us two options: The first is as an art gallery casually soaking up the visual ensembles, the second is to use your brain by thinking and learning about the collection of objects housed within.

Some insight curiosity, some are unsettling but all have at least once provided some function. As intimidating as some of these look, there are no weapons in the museum, it is up to our own imaginations how we perceive them, and the structures Vlad has created make them unfamiliar, providing them with a new identity. He describes it as similar to Frankenstein's laboratory. To give you an idea, imagine of what kind of companions you might construct in your solitary survival of an apocalyptic event trapped inside the basement of an old department store.  

Designpanoptikum - surreales Museum für industrielle Objekte creation .JPG

Many of the scariest looking devices were actually designed and built to help people, from learning how to resuscitate an accident victim to actually having a machine like an iron lung to breath for you for your entire life. As Vlad had said there are no objects intended to cause pain or destruction in his museum, but the huge metal box he had as an example of the treatment for polio was made after the First World War when Germany had nothing other than weapons so an iron lung was made from submarine parts.

Designpanoptikum - surreales Museum für industrielle Objekte head in dish.JPG

During this visit to Berlin I also found myself inside the Museum of Medical History. This is not for the faint-hearted or those with a weak stomach (there were jars containing both of these) and I found myself in need of a stiff drink and some fresh air from my encounter here. There were no gimmicks or sensational presentations, just human specimens, historical facts and the real-life stories of individuals thus having a deeper effect than any Oscar nominated weepie or late night teen gore-fest. And the largest display of gallstones you will ever see.

Although unable to take photos in the Medical Museum I found the text from the introduction significant for both collections so I have included it here with  my images from the Designpanoptokum

Designpanoptikum - surreales Museum für industrielle Objekte optical masks.JPG

"Objects generate effects. They may be just standing in a room, be obstacles in the way or displayed in a showcase. Their sheer presence, their explicit 'thingness" evokes feelings in the viewer. If we want to learn more about the objects, we usually need additional information about their inventors, producers, users, applied materials, age or distribution. The stories deriving from them may be manifold.  Frequently, however these stories remain undetected or undiscovered."


Designpanoptikum - surreales Museum für industrielle Objekte drill.JPG

"Sometimes the objects fall into oblivion, lying in the dark corners of a museum's depot. The objects do not grant the curators a consultation hour. Nevertheless, we could interact with them further. They are sharp, colourful, fragile, pretty to look at, common, unique, useful, used, or unwieldy. "


"For a long time, only the respective museum curators were interested in these stories. To follow their own research and interests they developed an individual 'thing' expertise. Other people, however, would be able to tell quite different stories. Partly because of this, more and more researchers beyond the museum world have  turned to historical objects in recent times. They ask: what is our relationship with these things? What meaning do they have in our culture?" 



Here's the Designpanoptikum  Museum if you want to see it all for yourself! Torstraße 201, 10115 Berlin, Germany

Designpanoptikum - surreales Museum für industrielle Objekte Berlin outside.JPG