Zhang Huan was born in 1965 in the Henan Province of Anyang. He trained at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing before finally settling in New York in 1998. Like many artists from Mainland China, Zhang was trained in a classical painting style while he studied at the Central Academy. To this day the list of his favourite artists include the likes of Millet and Rubens. Not surprisingly, his early paintings demonstrated a strong interest in the body, and often depicted images of brains, arms or legs. He soon came to feel limited by painting, however, and finally decided to bring his subject matter to life, using his own body as the medium. "My decision to do performance art is directly related to my personal experience. I have always had troubles in my life. And these troubles often ended up in physical conflicts. I often found myself in conflict with my circumstances and felt that the world around me seemed to be intolerant of my existence. This frequent body contact made me realize the very fact that the body is the only direct way through which I come to know society and society comes to know me. The body is the proof of identity. The body is language" (Zhang, quoted in “Pilgrimage to Santiago” in O. Zaya, Zhang Huan: A Deeper Panic, 2000). Zhang'’s early performaces, which first garnered him international attention, were executed in China and included 12 Metres Square (1994), The Anonymous Mountain Raised by a Metre (1995) and similarly inspired piece To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond (1997). Since his move to New York, Zhang has continued to create enigmatic and power performance pieces which he documents through video and large format photography.
“I'm living and working in New York. Although I am surrounded by technology, I cannot use a computer. All over the world, people are celebrating these technological times as though they are possessed. I think they are poisoned: everyone is so busy, there is more pain than ever, there is little difference between man and machines. People make so much trouble for themselves, and continue making trouble for themselves. Maybe we are heading for disaster. I think we should separate some from contemporary civilization; we should return to slower times and live closer to nature".
My little boy is seven months old now. I feed him, bathe him, clean up for him---I feel so happy as a father. I feel so happy as a father. I feel beauty and happiness being alive. But it hurts me to think of him growing up in a murderous society, in a society that kills without spilling blood. Sometimes I dream that we are in my hometown, where he is a Buddhist monk in the He Nan Shao Lin Temple.
Will he appreciate me?
I don't know. These pressures stifle me.
I just want to live lighter
(Zhang, quoted on his website, www.zhanghuan.com).