Monday, April 26, 2010

Re-imagining the Past

"Perhaps Zhang offers a new model for the wider Chinese art world; making Chinese culture new, not by abandoning the past, but by re-imagining it." - Philip Dodd

Zhang Huan Three Heads Six Arms 2008

As part of the Shanghai Celebration, Zhang Huan's sculpture Three Heads Six Arms, 2008 will premiere this May 2010 in San Francisco in the Civic Center across from City Hall. The sculpture weighing 15 tons and standing over 26 feet tall, is part of Zhang Huan's sculpture series depicting Buddha arms, legs, feet, hands, and heads. This monumental series is inspired by the artists’ experience of seeing remnants of religious sculptures destroyed during the Cultural Revolution for sale in a Tibetan market.

Zhang Huan (B. 1965) is known primarily as a performance artist of the Chinese Avant-Garde movement. He started his artistic training at the age of 14 in the Su style or Soviet style under the tutelage of Gu Xijiu. In college, he became fascinated with Millet due to the romantic notion of everyday ordinary life. At the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, Zhang Huan also learned the Su style painting, which emphasized the texture and spatial quality of a painted object. Zhang Huan marks his shift away from oil paint to performance due to an occasion in which he found a discarded mannequin leg on the street proceeded to attempt to walk on three legs. The experience of using his body as an art medium was extremely moving to him and from then on he shifted his art practice towards performance.

The work of Zhang Huan can be divided into three phases. The first phase started in the 1990’s in the Beijing East Village. The second phase took place after Zhang Huan immigrated to New York in 1998, and the third phase is the creation of installations, sculptures, and ash paintings starting in 2005 after moving to Shanghai.

Three Heads Six Arms is representative of the third phase of his oeuvre in which he shifted his art away from his well-known performance art practice towards an object based art practice. In his work since 2005, Zhang Huan work deals with the themes of recollection and memory. Zhang Huan states that “Life is a process of transmigration, I want to express and record this process." Three Heads Six Arms exemplifies the shift in artistic practice of the Chinese Avant-Garde to a re-imagining of the Chinese past.

“Today the entire country of China is running forward, you can say that we are looking back to China.” – Zhang Huan


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