In 826 AD, Bai Juyi, renowned Tang Dynasty poet and civil servant, is taking a stroll around a large lake on the Yangtze Delta Plain in eastern China, when he discovers a pair of oddly shaped rocks that captivate his attention. He is so struck by these rocks, that he has them taken back home to Suzhou. Soon after his return, he sits down and writes a poem about them. This was perhaps the founding moment of Gongshi, the ancient art of appreciation for rocks.
In the early first decade of the twelfth century, Mi Fu, the Northern Song poet, politician, painter and eccentric scholar, known as much for his outspokenness as for his refined tastes, has just been appointed as a magistrate in the district of Wuwei. Upon entering the official residence for the first time, instead of offering his respects to his hosts, Mi turns and bows ceremoniously to an extraordinary looking rock in the garden. In an elaborate speech he addresses it as an “Elder Brother Rock”.
During August 2013, I was art directing a photo shoot at a marble company in Versilia. In one of those day-dreaming moments in which you are waiting for the photographer to finish a previous shot, I spotted this slab of Arabescato Altissimo resting temporarily against the warehouse wall. A greyscale detail from a landscape of rocks as they meet the sea or perhaps a series of floating icebergs beautifully captured within a random block of marble. It was pure coincidence how it was saved from the sliced block before being cut into smaller tiles, its beauty gone for good. Once the shoot was over I asked to purchase the slab and organised for it to be shipped to my house in London. It now sits in my entrance corridor, a reminder of how important it is to surround ourselves with objects that help us read imaginary landscapes.