Zhang's Bloodlines series was inspired by family photographs taken during the Cultural Revolution era, images which, like any historical or personal photograph, are inevitably informed by our knowledge of the passage of time and the fates of those pictured. Unlike many members of China's avant-garde, Zhang is less interested in contemporary social tensions and ironies than he is inward-looking, focused primarily on the subjective interplay between history, memory, and experience.
Zhang began his Bloodlines series in 1993, and this work from 1995 is an especially fine and rare example of the early works from his famous series. The artist draws on the compositions of common studio portraiture to evoke a distinctly troubled period in which many were struggling to embody a collective ideal. Zhang paints his subjects before a generic, industrial studio backdrop, rendering their already conventionalized poses all the more rigid and devoid of expression. Individual characteristics can only be found in the differences in hairstyle, in the slight distinctions in dress, or in the mildly cross-eyed sitter. Zhang's 'bloodlines' are the tentative, tendon-like threads linking family members to each other, and these anonymous sitters seem to tremble with the uncertainly of the future and lives yet to unfold.