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Creation Date

Fall 2016


Materials: air, styrofoam, chinese 'scholar rocks'

Named after the Pavilion of Accumulated Void in the Master-of-Nets Garden in Suzhou, China, the cabinet uses Chinese scholar rocks to embody the notion that "emptiness is form." In the aesthetics developed around these stones, desirable characteristics included tou ('foraminate structure,' having multiple holes and openings). The forms of these elegant rocks, displayed as if floating in air, are defined by their emptiness. Emptiness and form arise in mutual dependency in the stones, as they do in the Heart Sutra, a Buddhist text referenced in A Tale for the Time Being from which the mantra "emptiness is form/form is emptiness" is derived.

Chinese Stones Notes (Tom Elias)
Unusual stones were appreciated by the literati in Imperial China for over 1,000 years. Stones like there were often displayed on desks in a scholar's study. Daoists believed that qi, the energy infusing all natural phenomena (including humans), was especially concentrated in rocks; stones were called 'the bones of the earth'. Stones with fantastic, abstract forms were the most valued.

Upper left: Taihu stone
This stone from Jiangsu province was formed and polished by waves in Lake Tai for thousands of years.

Lower left: Linglong stone (vertical)
“Linglong” may be translated as graceful and delicate. The stone originated in the mountains in the southern province of Guangxi.

Lower right: Linglong stone (horizontal)
This small, skeleton-like stone from Guangxi province can represent the entire world—heaven and earth.

On loan from the collection of Tom Elias and Hiromi Nakaoji.
Learn more about stone appreciation:

Slow time exercises for this display:

  1. Read the passage in A Tale for the Time Being on Form is emptiness/emptiness is form, pp. 106-07.
  2. Consider any associations you have around the phrase "emptiness is form." If you are writing, free-write for 5 minutes about the phrase.
  3. Examine the stones in the cabinet. For each stone:
    1. Look at the stone for 5 minutes; see it from different distances and angles.
    2. Write an objective description of the stone so that someone who has not seen it could visualize it. Describe its size, form, color, and texture.
    3. Describe the "spirit" of the stone—what kind of affect, vibe, feeling, presence does it have? If you were to name the stone, what would you call it?
    4. What thoughts did the stone provoke as you looked at it and write about it?
    5. After you have completed this exercise for all three stones, then write about "emptiness is form" in relation to the Cabinet exhibit as a whole. What links do you see? How do the stones and exhibit make you think about "emptiness is form"?
    6. Write a 100 – 250 word creative or critical composition about "emptiness is form."
    7. Take photos of the stones and write a message about them or give them your names; post them to your favorite social media channels using the hashtag, #SlowLMU.

For more resources:

Read the Heart Sutra and the explication of it at the link.

Read about Chinese stones

Read about Linglong stones at VSANA (Viewing Stone Association of North America) website.