After Dark | Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang

Ring Stone, 2010

Granite, seven Japanese Black Pine trees


95 in. x 422.5 in. x 95 in. (241.3 cm x 1073.15 cm x 241.3 cm)

Commissioned with MIT Percent-for-Art Funds and made possible by generous donations from the Annie Wong Art Foundation and the Robert D. (‘64) and Sara-Ann Sanders family

An adventurous tour of MIT’s more remote buildings. Best followed in the evening so that night has fallen for the later pieces.

This tour was created by Joseph Faraguna, class of 2020, in Bioengineering and with a minor in Computer Science. Faraguna was a List Center Student Guide for all four years of his undergraduate career. 

Cai Guo-Qiang’s Ring Stone combines twelve granite links and seven Japanese Black Pine trees into a complex piece that hopes for harmony between humans and nature. The twelve massive rings were all cut from one 14 ton block of granite quarried from caves in southern China’s Fujian Province. On the surface, the piece is a celebration of the Sloan School of Management’s educational and cultural ties to China, those fixed like the granite and those ever changing like the trees. On a deeper level, symbolism and composition reflect important Chinese cultural traditions: the chain representing the Confusian responsibilities and relationships, the trees, a Daoist testament to the power of nature, the twelve rings themselves a representation of the Chinese lunar calendar and zodiac. The piece was placed in the urban environment according to the principles of feng shui to block negative energies from the converging traffic nearby and to remind viewers about the importance of proper relationship with nature. Given this, how do you think Guo-Qiang understood changing light and seasons as a part of the piece? 

Building Number: E62

Accession Number: PFA.2010.003

Audio Transcript

Ring Stone, a 2010 work by Chinese-born artist, Cai Guo-Qiang, unites the Sloan School of Management's educational ties to China, with the school's appreciation of that country's cultural contributions. Cai Guo-Qiang typically explores cycles of creation and destruction in nature and society, often using fireworks or gunpowder to spectacular effect. Here, 12 indivisible links are carved from a single piece of granite.


I wanted people to wonder, how did this end up here? How is it made? I traveled back to my hometown Quanzhou, and I went to the quarry to find the biggest chunk of stone there, and then I worked with Chinese artisans who used both machinery and hand carving to cut the stone. The sculpture started off as a 16-metric-ton piece of rock, and then it was trimmed down so it could fit inside an ocean container.

The links signify an individual's relationship to society, the infinite cycle of life and the seasons. And more specifically, both the 12 months of the calendar and the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Interspersed amidst the stone links are seven Asian pine trees.


Pine trees often grow quite well in very hostile environments, even through a crevice of a rock. In traditional Chinese art and literature, pine trees represent this very persistent spirit. So when I decided to introduce a plant element, I was thinking the artwork would become a living thing of its own, and that it would change with seasons. Whenever you mention MIT, people associate it with science and technology, and it's a very rhetorical, logical place. So I wanted to bring in something that's perhaps a little irrational from nature.

Ring Stone was made as part of the MIT Percent-for-Art, a program of the List Visual Arts Center. Begun in 1968, the initiative allocates a portion of the budget from each new building project or major renovation to the purchase or commission of art for public space.