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Remember the man covered in flies at the Beijin’s Artist District during 1994? That is Zhang Huan in his most iconic work, “12 square meter” – an art statement that also made Zhang to become one of the most controversial Contemporary Chinese Artists of the Nineties of the Twentieth Century.

Zhang Huan Exhibition 'Dawn of Time'
Hero #1, 2009, 490 x 980 x 640 cm

At the time, Zhang pursued a strong interest in using himself as a medium to express the term ‘life’ in relation to ‘survival’. For his work, “12 Square Meter”, Zhang occupies his body as a canvas to depict man’s dissatisfaction with the life and, vice versa, man’s unbreakable willpower to surviving. Soon after that act, Zhang faded from the Chinese art realm, and became an active player in the global art scene. Working in such dynamic cultural arena, Zhang challenges himself to break the limit of self, of the environment, of the confluents in which his works is often based on. Now, Zhang returns back to his root, to exhibit his most recent creation at “Dawn of Time”.

Pagoda, 2009. H670x W850cm

“Dawn of Time”, an exhibition at Shanghai Art Museum organized by Zhang himself, allows visitor to explore five of his latest works. The exhibition comprise of installations which is based on adaptive reuse of material of demolished existing home in Shanghai. Three biggest hights are the installations pieces which creatively speaks about history and indigenous culture – “Dawn of Time”, “Pagoda” and “Hero #1”, a surrealist sculpture piece composed of cattle skin, while remaining features of the show consist of two Ash paintings – “Great Leap Forward, Canal building” and “Reservoir”.

Grand Canal, 2009, 400 x 1,200cm

Three of the larger scaled installation works covered up nearly a thousand square meters of exhibition hall, in which the scale of space is engulfed by the installation, leading the experience for the viewers to be haunting. In specific, “Dawn of Time” addresses the relationship of nostalgia and urban transformation. From rudimentary form to highrise buildings, “Dawn of Time” breaks down the rapid process of urban transformation, to remind viewers the feeling about loss and memory. In contrast, shaped like a temple bell, “Pagoda” represents the symbol of harmony and peaceful coexistence among people, in which the pig that sits within the bell expresses strength. Furthermore, “Hero #1” portrays so-called characteristic of a common-day hero – a familiar feature mankind shares to prolong hopes in life even if one is broken, hurt or warn by harshness of life.

Dawn of Time, 2009, 440 x 1,800 x 600cm

As for two Ash Painting, the work itself recalls the memory of Chinese Labour force building the reservoir, battaing against the hardship of nature and spirit people carried in making the dam. Regardless of the medium, the methodology in approach, Zhang attempts to always place emphasis on the transformation of environment and its relation to the spirit of a man in his work. For this reason, “Dawn of Time” is a masterpiece that is worth experiencing.

Upon the opening of “Dawn of Time” at Shanghai World Expo, Zhang will also be exhibiting “Harmony”, two stainless steel mirrors which are dedicated to the pandas that will also be the focal points of the expo. Zhang intends to use the pairing the pandas with the mirrors to highlight the symbol of Chinese culture and their ideology of life. Truly, from “Dawn of Time” to “Harmony”, Zhang is at his height. He has crafted a solid image to his conception of the term ‘life and the force of life’.

Zhang Huan Exhibition “Dawn of Time”
Date: 3rd – 28th February, 2010
Place: Shanghai Art Museum
Address: 325Huangpi Nan Lu, Huangpu, Shanghai
Tel: 021-63270997

Text: Xu Yan
Translation: Ariel Yen-ju Hsieh
Photos: Kenta Torimoto

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