Sustainability | 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

This tour provides an overview of some MIT architecture and public art that intersect with climate and sustainability. It was developed as the result of a collaboration between the List Visual Arts Center and the MIT Office of Sustainability. The tour covers various technical aspects of sustainability (i.e. LEED certification, infrastructure adaptations, etc.) as well as more abstract and spiritual connections to the natural environment.

This tour was created by Effie Jia class of 2020 in Architecture and Design with a minor in Sustainability. Jia was a List Center Student Guide for two years. 

Ring Stone was created from stone blocks quarried from the caves of Zhangbanzhen, and features Japanese Black Pine trees. The stones are placed according to rules of qi (energy), and the tree foliage represents longevity and overcoming adversity. 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. 

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.