Zhang Huan used 20 tons of incense ash to create 5m statue

Zhang Huan - Sydney Buddha, 2015, aluminum, 5m height, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia 1
Zhang HuanSydney Buddha, left: Aluminium Buddha, 370x290x260cm, right: Ash Buddha, 350x480x290cm, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, 2015
Photo: Carriageworks/carriageworks.com.au

Zhang Huan’s Ash Buddhas

Zhang Huan, born in 1965, started his career as a painter and then moved to performance art and then resorted back to painting. He is also a sculptor and photographer, but his main focus is on being a performance artist. Throughout his career, he has made extensive use of ash and even built a few sculptures with it. Zhang says that he considers ash to be symbolic as it represents the hopes and prayers of those who usually burn the incense. To him, the ash sculptures represent a collective blessing, memory and soul of the Chinese people. The ash is collected from various temples in Shanghai, a time-consuming process that involves many hands.

How the ash sculptures are made

When making such sculptures, the ash is compacted into the mold for a number of days, and then the aluminum sculpture is removed and reassembled facing the ash sculpture. Eventually, the ash sculpture will start trampling down after some time, while the aluminum sculpture remains intact.

The meaning of the artwork

Zhang believes that each ash Buddha represents the prayers, thoughts, and hopes of mankind, which eventually collapse. This is the cycle of life and taking action when there should be no action taken, upsets nature, in a way.

Different versions of the Buddha

The ‘Sydney Buddha’

In 2015, Zhang created the Sydney Buddha, one headless metal statue, and another one made from over 20 tons of incense ash, crumbling gradually. It was named Sydney Buddha for the purpose of its presentation in Australia. Initially, it was known as Taiwan Buddha. The Sydney Buddha is a meditation on the briefness of life and the various cycles that facilitate the renewal and destruction of life. This piece is made using two parts: the main sculpture made of aluminum and incense-ash casting as the interior. These pieces are placed facing each other, and as time elapses, one of them depreciates.

Zhang Huan - Sydney Buddha, 2015, aluminum, 5m height, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia
Zhang HuanSydney Buddha, Ash Buddha, 350x480x290cm, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, 2015
Photo: Carriageworks/carriageworks.com.au

Zhang Huan - Sydney Buddha, 2015, aluminum, 5m height, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia
Zhang HuanSydney Buddha, Aluminium Buddha, 370x290x260cm, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, 2015
Photo: Carriageworks/carriageworks.com.au

Zhang Huan - Sydney Buddha, 2015, aluminum, 5m height, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia
Zhang HuanSydney Buddha, left: Aluminium Buddha, 370x290x260cm, right: Ash Buddha, 350x480x290cm, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, 2015
Photo: Carriageworks/carriageworks.com.au

Zhang Huan - Sydney Buddha, 2015, aluminum, 5m height, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia 10
Zhang HuanSydney Buddha, Ash Buddha, 350x480x290cm, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, 2015
Photo: Carriageworks/carriageworks.com.au

Zhang Huan - Sydney Buddha, 2015, aluminum, 5m height, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia 10c
Zhang HuanSydney Buddha, Ash Buddha, 350x480x290cm, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, 2015
Photo: Carriageworks/carriageworks.com.au

Zhang Huan - Sydney Buddha, 2015, aluminum, 5m height, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, Photo Michael Young
Zhang HuanSydney Buddha, Aluminium Buddha, 370x290x260cm, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, 2015
Photo: Carriageworks/carriageworks.com.au

Zhang Huan - Sydney Buddha, 2015, aluminum, 5m height, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia 7d
Zhang HuanSydney Buddha, Aluminium Buddha, 370x290x260cm, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, 2015
Photo: Carriageworks/carriageworks.com.au

Zhang Huan - Sydney Buddha, 2015, aluminum, 5m height, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia 7b
Zhang HuanSydney Buddha, Aluminium Buddha (detail), 370x290x260cm, Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, 2015
Photo: Carriageworks/carriageworks.com.au

The ‘Berlin Buddha’

The Berlin Buddha is another monumental ash sculpture of Buddha, made from 6 tons of ash from burned incense. This ash has been poured into an aluminum mold that stands at 4 meters tall.

Zhang Huan - Berlin Buddha - Art Stage Singapore, 2013
Zhang HuanBerlin Buddha, Art Stage Singapore, Singapore, 2013

Zhang Huan - Berlin Buddha - Museum of Old and New Art, 2014
Zhang HuanBerlin Buddha, Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 2014

Zhang Huan - Berlin Buddha - Museum of Old and New Art, 2014 3
Zhang HuanBerlin Buddha, Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 2014

Zhang Huan - Berlin Buddha - Museum of Old and New Art, 2014 2
Zhang HuanBerlin Buddha, Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 2014

Videos

Interview with Zhang Huan

2min 13sec

Construction time-lapse

1min 33sec

Preparatory drawings of the Ash Buddha

Zhang Huan - Berlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing) 4, 2007, ink on paper, 82.5 x 102cm
Zhang HuanBerlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing) 4, 2007, ink on paper, 82.5 x 102cm

Zhang Huan - Berlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing) 5, 2007, ink on paper, 82.5 x 102cm
Zhang HuanBerlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing) 5, 2007, ink on paper, 82.5 x 102cm

Zhang Huan - Berlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing) 7, 2007, ink on paper, 82.5 x 102cm
Zhang HuanBerlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing) 7, 2007, ink on paper, 82.5 x 102cm

Zhang Huan - Berlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing) 9, 2007, ink on paper, 82.5 x 102cm
Zhang HuanBerlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing) 9, 2007, ink on paper, 82.5 x 102cm

Zhang Huan - Berlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing), 2007, ink on paper, 82.5 x 102cm
Zhang HuanBerlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing), 2007, ink on paper, 82.5 x 102cm

Zhang Huan - Berlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing), 2007, ink and soya sauce on paper, 82.5 x 102cm
Zhang HuanBerlin Buddha (Preparatory Drawing), 2007, ink and soya sauce on paper, 82.5 x 102cm

All images by Zhang Huan/zhanghuan.com unless otherwise noted.

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