Another example exhibited:
Bruges, SOUL, July - September, 2005
Sint-Lievens-Houtem, Cotthem Gallery, Group Show, September - December, 2003
Zhang Huan is widely recognized as among the most important artists of his generation and the first dedicated performance artist in modern China. Grounding his work in the experiences to which he subjects his body and in the relationship of the present to the past, Zhang has produced a wide body of iconic works that are the most widely recognized images of Chinese contemporary art.
The expressive qualities of his performances and sculptures derive from an inward focus upon psychological mastery and endurance that takes on powerful allegorical implications of the whole of humanity’s experience. In this way, the artist’s use of his body as physical, material form resonates with metaphysical even religious overtones that convey a nonsectarian, oracular message to contemporary society.
Of Buddha Never Down, the artist has stated in interview, “I have made works that are perpetual, cyclical. Buddha Never Down (2003) is a large ball in a gallery that you push but it comes back. It is related to a work made a year earlier in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Pilgrimage to Santiago (2001), based on the form of an incense ball. I was naked inside this huge round cage that rolled around the cathedral square of this town where Christian pilgrims have come for centuries….”i Prior to this component of the performance, the artist and other pilgrims to the site removed their clothes, signifying the abandonment of earthly possession. Within the incense ball, traversing the paths of pilgrimage, Zhang Huan’s performance suggests a self-purification ritual, which takes its ultimate form in the serene white figure at the center of Buddha Never Down.
Although inspired by Buddhist principles – and by the salutary lessons this age-old wisdom still offers to the modern world – Zhang Huan’s own personal religion is bound up with the work he creates. As he states, “Art, to many people, to me, is another kind of religion—art lovers, Christians, Buddhists—People need a feeling to save themselves, to ease suffering, to live lighter. When we enjoy great artwork, we get happiness which nothing else can replace. In Zen, when we learn and practice the sutra’s wisdom, we get Zen’s enjoyment. I appreciate art giving me a living way.”ii
i From an October 2003 interview with Mary Jane Jacob, published in Mary Jane Jacob and Jacquelynn Baas, Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).
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