Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Zhang Huan Ash Paintings

Portrait by Chuck Close whom Haun also painted

Zhang Huan, one of China's leading contemporary artists is known for his ash paintings. He included the above, made of incense remains, in "Semele," an opera in which he had his (stage) directorial debut in Brussels, Belgium at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie.

Here are some excerpts taken from an interview by Elena Geuna about his ash paintings.

(Zhang Huan, Rebirth, Published by ProjectB Contemporary Art, 2009, Italy)

ZH: When I was young, I would go to the temples with my family and light incense and pray to Buddha. Even though at the time I didn’t really understand it, it was already part of my life. Today Buddhist doctrine can make me calm, peaceful. It can help me to better understand impermanence and the karma of cause and effect.

During my eight years in New York, I began to once again come to know Chinese culture.
After returning to China, I had a deeper appreciation of tradition and faith. I discovered incense ash, doors, cow skin... Tradition is the body of a people, faith is the soul of a people. Body and soul together create a complete existence. China is currently putting all its strength into developing and moving forward, but it can’t leave behind its body and soul.

Three years ago I became a lay Buddhist. The temple is a completely different world, one of hope. When I see the ashes of these prayers (about life and death), it really moves me. This gave rise to my idea to create art out of incense ash. Two years ago was the first time I brought the ash from the Shanghai Jing’an Temple back to my studio. It is hard to use language to describe how I felt at the time. The other workers and I knelt before the ash.

Every year we bring several thousand cubic units of ash from dozens of temples in the Jiangsu-Zhejiang region back to the studio. The ash from the temples all comes in oil canisters, oftentimes the ash continues burning in the barrels for one or two months. When it is taken to the ash storage room, we brave great smoke and flames. After the basic ash group of he studio handles this, then they pick through it, separating it into type and color. Then the creative ash group use the ash to make paintings, ash sculptures, and ash installation.

For me ash is not ash, nor is it a material, it is a kind of collective soul, collective memory, and collective blessing. I choose photographs that move me, some of them come from militarylife during the Revolution, some are from daily life and others are historical figures. I try to communicate with the souls behind these photographs, just as I am in working together with the countless souls contained in the ash. Ash is a kind a carrier of hope, made solid by souls.

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1 comment:

  1. This is such an amazing artist, I had no idea about his work. Thank you for posting for the rest of us!


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