b. 1965, Anyang, China
Zhang Huan was born in Anyang in 1965, and lived and worked in Beijing before moving to New York in 1998.
In the early 1990s Zhang was part of the experimental artistic community “Beijing East Village” that was formed as a counter-reaction to the persecution and censorship of art and the media following the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989. In Zhang’s earliest performances, the artist exposed his own body to extreme conditions as a symbol of oppression and violence, which can also be seen as a reaction to these conditions.
In 2005 Zhang moved back to China, where he established a studio practice in the outskirts of Shanghai. When the artist returned to his homeland he left the performance-art field in order to devote himself to large installations with references to Buddhism and the Chinese cultural heritage. He made use of materials from temples such as fragments of statues of Buddha, antique wooden doors, and ashes from incense to make sculptures and paintings. Zhangs ash paintings are often based on existing photographs that comment on Chinese history. Here we see one of Zhang’s paintings from his Flag series, where he has used ash to depict different versions of the flags of the USA and China, two countries that have been his home. A flag created from ash can evoke images of flag burnings, the cremation of dead bodies and the Buddhist use of incense. Ash holds a dual symbolism, referring to death but also to rebirth, like a phoenix that rises from the ashes and is resurrected in a new and triumphant form. Does the American flag made of ash symbolise a dying nation or will it be reborn in its former glory?
Photograph by Chuck Close© Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery