Zhang Huan: Performances on Video

22 June – 30 July 2000

Zhang Huan, 3006m3: 65kg 1997

Zhang Huan is a leading figure among second generation Chinese performance artists rising to prominence in the wake of political unrest culminating in the Tiananmen Square massacres. His work addresses trauma; the aftermath of shock, suffering and pain expressed both as a personal comment concerning his own and his family’s histories and as a collective response.

Zhang’s performance work takes both solo and group forms. Much of the work performed alone involves some type of bodily mortification, referencing the practices of Buddhist asceticism and Christian sacrifice. Suffering is used as a means to transcendence. Whether he is harnessed to a rafter while his blood and sweat mix on a hot plate or when he invites insects to crawl over him in a squalid public toilet, Zhang’s performances confront the thresholds of pain and point to a way through.

‘In my performances, I try to separate my spirit from my flesh: to get my senses away from my body in order to let my spirit go beyond reality.’—Zhang Huan.

‘I think of our body as basic, natural and comfortable. This is why I have kept nakedness in my art works.’—Zhang Huan

Zhang’s group works are not the gruelling events he performs alone, yet they too address trauma. Commenting on the position of the individual in contemporary China, these performances, by association with their physical interventions, explore cultural and political issues, frequently addressing alienation within rigid social structures.

Zhang Huan was born in 1965 in rural China during the Cultural Revolution. He studied European painting at the Nan Academy and later undertook post graduate study in painting at Beijing’s Central Academy. While studying, he moved to the city’s East Village, where he was influenced by the community of experimental artists. He consequently abandoned painting and graduated from the Academy in 1993, despite having his final submission—an installation and performance on female infanticide—rejected.

Zhang Huan: Performances on Video was curated by Richard Dale and organised by Artspace, Auckland with the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery New Plymouth. Supported from Asia 2000.