A parallel Worlds

Friday May 23 2008 / Art & Design


The Giant

I recently received the following email from Max Büsser: Hi Ian, I saw an exhibit by Zhang Huan New York. It was truly impressive. The ash painting which must be 30 meters long and the Giant is covered in cow hides. Both are jaw dropping!

You can see Zhang Huan's 'Blessings' exhibition at the Pace Wildenstein gallery in New York until the 25th ofJuly, 2008.



Zhang Huan was born in Anyang, Henan, China. He began his work as part of a small artists’ collective known as the "Beijing East Village" located in a rural outpost of the city. The group of friends from art school pioneered this particular brand of performance in China and Zhang was often reprimanded by officials for the perceived inappropriateness of his actions.

Zhang’s performances always involve his body in one way or another, usually naked, occasionally involving masochistic actions; he cites the body as a primary method of communication, describing it as the only means by which people experience the world and vice versa.

By using quasi-religious ritual, he seeks to discover the point at which the spiritual can manifest via the corporeal. He uses simple repetitive gestures, usually regarded as meaningless work-for-work’s-sake chores. Buddhism, with its temple music, sculptures and philosophy are a prevalent theme in Zhang Huan’s work. Wikipedia:


Ash Head bust

Zhang Huan's often traumatic performances are memory retrievals, recollections of suffering. A 1994 performance in a public toilet in an impoverished area of Beijing referred to the abortions and female infanticides that occurred under the Chinese government's one child policy.

The artist covered himself with honey and fish oil, sat motionless for several hours attracting flies and ants before emerging himself in a nearby river.


Canal Building (ash painting)



To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond, 1997.Performance at Nanmofang fishpond, Beijing. Photograph by Robin Beck.

Huan's group performances, involving nine or more people, use logic to defy logic and culminate in rigid formations: a pyramid of naked bodies, people standing motionless in water, figures face down on the ground. While paralleling the rigidity and alienating effects of social structures, these formations give further expression to the trauma of the collective.


Altered States: This video shows a broad overview of Zhang Huan's as well as an interview with the artist himself.

You can learn more about this amazing artist at www.zhanghuan.com

Suggested by
Ian Skellern