Why is Zhang Huan important?
Zhang Huang is one of the greatest and perhaps most popular controversial artists in contemporary China. He first started making a name for himself in the mid-1990s thanks to his performances, many of which have frequently been regarded as too punishing. Case in point, some of his more popular performances featured him naked and covered in insects.
Erwin Wurm is certainly one of Austria’s and the world’s most recognizable artists. Using social taboos and absurd scenarios to create his thought-provoking work, Wurm’s art installations have broken boundaries and changed the way that people approach and view art in a contemporary society.
Through his installations, Wurm comments on modern society and critiques it through his curious point of view of the world that has catapulted him to global fame and success. Throughout his career, Wurm’s transient performative one minute sculptures which he often photographs before exhibiting have combined both humor and basic criticisms, which has paved the way for innumerable explanations and interpretations from audiences.
Marina Abramović & Ulay – Rest Energy, 1980, performance for video, 4 minutes, ROSC’ 80, Dublin 1980
Photo: Marina Abramović and Ulay. Courtesy of Marina Abramović and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York. DACS 2016
It is no secret that Marina Abramović is one of the best and most audacious performance artists of all time. Celebrated for her ability to push boundaries when it came to performance art and indeed using her body as an a portrayal of meaning, endurance and at times the threat of physical harm, she has therefore made a big impact on performance art over the years. Her work, Rhythm Series (1973-1974), Balkan Baroque (1997), The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk (1988), and The House with the Ocean View (2002) among others is a testament to her dedication to this type of performance art. This became even better when she paired up with German artist Ulay, to create this piece, Rest Energy with her in 1980. She credits this four minutes long performance piece as being her most difficult work.
Marina Abramović & Ulay and the arrow
Currently in the Netherlands Media Art Institute’s collection, Rest Energy does not disappoint. Indeed looking at a Polaroid that is part of the loop series featuring Abramović and Ulay draws a lot of emotions. The two face each other and Ulay aims an arrow tensed on the bow straight at her- in fact, a few inches from her heart. The Polaroid evokes emotions of individual vulnerability and total trust with Mariana holding the bow while Ulay grasps the arrow and bowstrings both slightly tilted back on their heels making eye contact. The captured pose is tense, a reaction evoked because the two put tension on the bow and arrow. What draws one’s eye is the fiery red arrow and the focus on Marinna though her pose is suggestive of subordination.
The meaning of Rest Energy
What you could describe as a harrowing ordeal is actually a portrayal of total trust and vulnerability, inherent in every close relationship where the people love each other, and rooted in extremism. What makes this piece raw and resonant with emotions is the fact that the two artists had fallen in love and were in a relationship at the time of shooting this piece. Indeed, the entire video is more intense as they had microphones hooked on their hearts such that with the progress of the performance, there was an increase in the tempo and intensity of their heartbeats. Also, an interesting contributing factor to the birth of this piece is the fact that both artists were born on 30th November hence were both Sagittarius, the zodiac sign of the Archer. This formed the basis of choosing the bow and arrow as the weapon of choice to approach and link with each other.
About Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović, the undisputed queen of performance art is well-known for her radical pieces that propelled her to worldwide fame. She was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1946 and dedicated her life to creating pieces centered in performance, and feminist art. She is especially renowned for the use of her body as medium and subject when creating her art.
Video still of Rest Energy
Ulay/Marina Abramović Rest Energy 1980, 16 mm transferred to digital, with color, sound, 4:04” min. Amsterdam, LIMA Foundation. Courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives and LIMA, MAC/2017/034
Courtesy of Marina Abramović Archives. Marina Abramović by SIAE 2018
Video excerpt of Rest Energy
Zhang Huan – My New York, 2002, Whitney Biennial, New York
Zhang Huan (张洹) is one of China’s best known conceptual and performance artists. In his sculptures and paintings, he references the history of his home country. As such, his pieces contain components of political, religious and intellectual messages as well as anonymous portrait and landscape scenes. Most of his works have mainly been used to promote Chinese culture and to spread a message with the intention of sanitizing the city. In particular, the issue of toilets is very dear to him and it has helped him create one of his most famous performance pieces.
Marina Abramovic – The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk (still), 1988/2008, performed for 90 days along The Great Wall of China. 16mm film transferred to two-channel video
About Marina Abramović & Ulay: The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk
Artists Marina Abramovic and Ulay are known in many parts of the world as the lovers whose relationship ended at the Great Wall of China. Initially, when the couple planned the trip, they intended to get married at the center of the wall. However, it was years later when the couple finally acquired all the authorization required from the Chinese government and were able to raise funds for the projected. Sadly, by then, the couple’s 12-year relationship has crumbled and what started out as a marriage celebration turned into last goodbyes for the couple. The couple had planned to be the first people to walk the entirety of the Great Wall, however, they were beaten to the punch by a Chinese railway clerk.
Francis Alÿs – When Faith Moves Mountains (still), 2002, In collaboration with Cuauhtémoc Medina and Rafael Ortega. 16mm film transferred to DVD, Lima, Peru
When Faith Moves Mountains or Cuando la fe mueve montañas was created by artist Francis Alÿs to explain the paradox of life; sometimes people make things that lead to nothing, while sometimes making nothing leads to remarkable things.
Ai Weiwei – Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995
Ai Weiwei’s desire to court controversy
Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn as an art is brilliant and a work of total ingenuity, but in between the lines, it says a lot about the artist: his desire to court controversy. The return of Ai Weiwei to China after living in New York City for more than a decade in 1981–1993 marked the beginning of a new form of art, dedicating some of his works to the themes of transformation and destruction. He embarked on collecting ancient vessels with the aim of converting them into contemporary art pieces. Some people viewed this act as a way of collaborating with the ancient artists’ work, but some argued that it was misappropriating the artists’ work without their approval. This act provoked emotions since the urns were considered a form of consumer culture and heritage preservation, especially since he dropped it intentionally.