The 4 metres high sculpture, made from compacted ash, faces the aluminium mould from which it was cast and will slowly disintegrate over the three-month course of the exhibition.
Inspired whilst praying at a Buddhist temple, the artist recognized that the ash remnants of joss sticks are the incarnation of prayers.
At the opening of the exhibition, Zhang Huan revealed the ash Buddha’s face, causing the unsupported head to fall and crumble, which in turn activated the gradual collapse of the whole sculpture. This disintegration is the focal point, as the artist explains: “As time goes by, the environment will affect the work, as the floor will tremble with movement, ash Buddha will also change and fall into piece. The work questions what is Buddha. And since all is void, will ash lie still?”
This form of Process Art, whose emphasis is on the creative process rather than the end product parallels the artist’s Buddhist practice, according to which experience was thought to outweigh material form. Besides, the ash Buddha’s collapse recalls the desecration of religious and traditional artefacts by the Red Guards during China’s Cultural Revolution.
Now one of the most successful Chinese artists, Zhang Huan gained fame for his pretty extreme performance works. He would usually be naked, coated in honey and birdseed, prostrated on a bed of ice or pelted with pieces of day old bread and finally an egg (thrown at him by Americans).
For 12 Meters Square (1994), he covered himself in honey and fish remains and sat for one hour in a filthy public lavatory in Beijing, while people continued to use the facility, and flies amassed on his flesh.
My New York
For My New York, he wore a suit made of fresh cuts of meat stitched together and strode down Fifth Avenue, releasing white doves from a cage, a Buddhist gesture of compassion. The performance also evoked the rawness and fragility of post 9/11 America.
Berlin Buddha runs at Haunch of Venison Berlin through December 8.
A retrospective of the artist´work Zhang Huan: Altered States is running until January 20th at Asia Society and Museum, New York.
This month, Haunch of Venison London is presenting Zhang Huan’s first solo exhibition in the city, while a monumental sculpture of a three-legged Buddha is occupying the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts. Nice interview with the artist in The Telegraph.