ZHANG HUAN (b. 1965)

ZHANG HUAN Zhang Huan was born in 1965, in Anyang, Henan Province, and studied at the Art
Academy of Henan before graduating in 1991 from the Central Academy of Fine
Arts in Beijing. He currently divides his time between New York, Shanghai and
Berlin. He came to the attention of the art world in 1993 when Ai Wei Wei wrote
three books The White Book, The Gray Book and the Black Book, each
immortalizing a different performance artist, one of whom was Zhang Huan. Two
of his most famous early performances were The Anonymous Mountain Raised by
a Meter, in 1995, where nine or ten naked bodies were stacked on top of one
another on a hill and To Raise the Water Level in a Pond (1997). In this
performance, a group of men stand up to their chests in water, looking into the
camera. With this poetically absurd performance, Zhang Huan shows that
collective action can actually have an effect.

In other works, Zhang Huan has subjected himself to extreme physical and mental
ordeals. In 64 Kilograms (1994), he had himself suspended horizontally by chains,
naked, face down, with a small opening in a vein. His blood dripped onto a
hotplate of a stove, where it evaporated. Or he crouched for hours on a public
toilet – naked, motionless, his body smeared with honey and fish oil – until he was
covered in flies. This performance, 12 Square Meters (1994), could be interpreted
as a condemnation of the deplorable cramped living conditions in the
overpopulated cities.

In this particular series, Foam, Zhang lathers himself with soap and water, letting
the foam act as a cleansing and purifying agent. He then ate pictures of his family
members and ancestors in a symbolic act by which he incorporated the past into
his present. While his art seeks to reconcile China’s brutal past with the present,
his process takes place on a very personal level. Like his series Family Tree, in
which he wrote the names of his ancestors all over his face, the Foam series also
conveys this idea that the past is always with us and that we must actively come to
terms with it.

Earth Life No. 19
oil on linen
39 1/4 x 59 in.
Foam (11)
chromogenic print
44 1/2 x 33 in.
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