Zhang Huan in suit made from raw meat (video)

Zhang Huan - My New York, 2002
Zhang HuanMy New York, 2002, Whitney Biennial, New York

Who is Zhang Huan?

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.

His toilet piece ’12 Square Meters’, 1994

In 1994 when Zhang was 29, he recorded his performance piece titled 12 Square Meters on black and white film. This particular performance piece was created to imitate the terrible conditions in Chinese toilets. Zhang sat naked with his head shaved in a small room. He was also covered in fish oil and honey as he waited for swarms of flies and other insects to surround him. The flies crawled into the artist’s mouth, his nose and into his ears and eyes for an hour after which Zhang simply walked away and cleaned himself in a nearby pond.

As a child, Zhang did not have access to the cleanest or well-constructed toilets, which is why they feature so heavily in his installations. Although he has now become an internationally recognized artist who has been represented by Pace Gallery, New York since 2007, he still continues to concentrate on social and health issues in his country.

Zhang Huan - My New York, 2002
Zhang HuanMy New York, 2002, Whitney Biennial, New York

Zhang Huan dressed up in a meat suit

Although Zhang is popular for his performance pieces, he has also managed to attract some attention for his paintings and sculptures. After moving to New York, Zhang tried to understand himself as a person and as an artist in the context of his new living situation. Because of his immigrant status, Zhang came up with My New York in which Zhang dressed up in a meat suit before walking around the busy streets of the Big Apple.

The meaning of the work

The layers of meat with the different stratum and contours gave Zhang an incredible Hulk-like appearance. Whilst making his stroll, he also released a white dove to complete the piece. According to Zhang, the dove was released in the Buddhist tradition while the meat was utilized to represent how Zhang perceived New York and human being’s inherent animalism. Through his piece, Zhang was able to effectively communicate and comment on the severe differences that human beings feel between who they are and what they appear to be.

Zhang Huan - My New York, 2002
Zhang HuanMy New York, 2002, Whitney Biennial, New York

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

Video of the performance

9min 59sec

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