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

Ring Stone is composed of twelve individual but indivisible links cut from a 39 and one-half-foot-long single block of white granite weighing approximately 14 metric tons. The massive stone block was quarried from the caves of Zhangbanzhen, Hui An County, near the artist’s hometown of Quanzhou in southern China’s Fujian Province, which also is where artisan stonemasons carved the work. Five graceful Japanese Black Pine trees, reminiscent of images found in traditional Chinese landscape painting, are planted inside the rings and another two pines reside nearby.

MIT’s Ring Stone, which celebrates the Sloan School of Management’s educational and cultural ties with China, is both firmly fixed and ever changing. The interlocking, inseparable granite links form a chain, representing the individual’s relationship to society. The rings are simultaneously symbolic of both wholeness and emptiness; and while the stone timelessly grounds the work, the seven Japanese Black Pines will slowly grow over time and change with each season. The solid granite contrasts with the elegant branching of the pines, suggesting the enduring power of nature in a modern urban architectural space. The twelve inextricably linked rings refer to the twelve months in the Chinese lunar calendar as well as the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, each of which is associated with one of eight Buddhist patron deities. The pine trees, which retain their green foliage even in a severe winter, represent longevity and endurance in the face of adversity. Cai has placed Ring Stone in its location on the Sloan School lawn according to the exacting principles of feng shui, the Chinese understanding of how qi (energy) flows throughout the universe.

The artist is a serious student of this complex belief system, which has been practiced in China since 1100 B.C. Based on the concept that man and nature must exist in harmony,feng shui incorporates the concept of yin and yang of balanced forces in every aspect of existence. Whenever anything in nature becomes too yin or too yang, it moves to become the opposite. Cai has studied extensively the use of feng shui in Chinese military history and architecture. He also has worked with officials in Mito, Japan, to analyze the city’s feng shui to develop solutions to unblock energy within the city’s circulation systems. In siting Ring Stone, Cai has used feng shui to bestow beneficial qi on the Sloan School by blocking the inauspicious energy created by traffic converging from Broadway and Main Street.

Cai has stated that the MIT Percent-for-Art provided him a perfect platform to bring his first public work to a university campus, “I have a close relationship with MIT. I was in residency at the List Visual Arts Center in 2003–04, so I am glad to have a chance to work with MIT for my new creation.”

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.