Ruthless art of Zhang Huan
Zhang Huan has core quality in contemporary art: he knows how to be ruthless visual efficiency. This efficiency comes from the huge scale, sometimes excessive, of most of his works that seize glance with overwhelming authority. The artist acquires figures and images which are immediately recognizable, and most often, charged with symbolic, religious or political strength: the face of Buddha or pictures of official Chinese propaganda for instance. The sharp relationship between motifs and materials is used to create art works of Zhang Huan. The visual efficiency is achieved through the rapport violent.
The most evident example of such inconsistency is the face of Buddha, printed on a tanned cowhide. On the border of the skin, divine features fray as if the sacred image is tearing away. But even the choice of such common animal fur, dedicated to the slaughter, is sufficient to make this presentation a desecration. The Buddha can be carved in the stone, precious metal or wood. It can also be painted on walls or tankas. However, the artist chose the cowhide because this is the only way to show the profane attitude that can be a source of irritating its viewers.
As for his paintings, i.e. ash on canvas, they are slightly different since no such sharp relationship exists between the dignity of the image and the vulgarity of materials. However, ashes-even ashes of incense-can engender the idea of destruction that seems incompatible with the subjects- the earnest proletariat at work or splendor of wild tigers set in freedom. Zhang Huan likes to say, while taking part again of all that is tied to cultural and religious traditions such as incense, that his paintings are those that are already threatened to be destructed and could fall into dust. Here again, impossible to escape his immediate reactions.
Anyone who remembers Zhang Huan’s performance in his early years and the remaining photographs that are almost unbearable can conclude that the artist is constantly searching for figures in order to put the spectator under distress and that it is the core principle of his work.
Why this principle? Why does he look for the most insightful efficiency? Life condition in his home country may be a factor. To simply say, in a country as vast and heavily administered as China, one requires fierce energy to make himself distinguishable as vividly as Zhang Huan. His appearance had features of a burst, a striking, and scandal. Performance and visual work must have been threatened. In foreign countries, such as Asian or Western countries, the situation was different, but required, in a sense, such talent for the purpose of provocation. It was not to break an established order, but to be seen and heard in the chaos of millions of images and sounds broadcast by means of mass communication.
Zhang Huan has succeeded with exceptional strength and that is why we still look at his works in the mixed atmosphere of astonishment, fear and admiration.
Translation by NOH Yun-Jung