“As artists and as individuals, we select materials as message-carriers to reconnect with the spiritual world outside of our everyday life. I feel comfortable to work with the medium that suits my ideas and works. For example, I like incense ash. To me, ash is not simply a medium for painting. It is the collective memory, collective soul and collective blessings of the people in China.”
Zhang Huan (b. Anyang, China, 1965) is a Chinese artist known for his performance art as well as paintings, sculptures, and prints. Born in a poor area in China, Huan received his MA in Fine Arts from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1993. He and other artists formed a collective while living in a slum on the outskirts of the city, and he began to create his performance pieces documented with photography. These always involved some degree of pain, as Huan believes overcoming pain leads to transcendence. In one of his first, 12 Meters (1994), Huan covered himself in fish oil and honey and sat motionless in a filthy public bathroom while insects crawled over his naked body. He later relocated to New York and continued his performance work, often related to his immigration. In 2006, the artist returned to Shanghai and focused on painting, sculpture, and printmaking with the help of assistants, creating paintings made from incense ash, sculptures covered with incense ash, assemblages, prints, and giant hands. Many of the sculptures referenced Buddhism, and were inspired by a trip the artist took to Tibet in 2005. Huan currently lives and works in both Shanghai and New York.