|“These ash remains speak to the fulfillment of millions of hopes, dreams and blessings.”
Carriageworks in association with Sydney Festival present the Australian premiere of Zhang Huan: Sydney Buddha, the largest installation created for Australia by the renowned Chinese artist.
Zhang Huan: Sydney Buddha is a meditation on the brevity of life and cycles of renewal and destruction. Made of two parts—an aluminum sculpture and an incense-ash casting of its interior—the works are installed facing each other. As time passes, one of them deteriorates.
Central to Zhang Huan’s practice is his Buddhist faith, which he describes as having “opened a gate” for him to understand the world and humanity. Sydney Buddha is built from 20 tons of incense-ash collected from temples in Shanghai, and the Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces of China. Incense is burned in Buddhist temples as a means to sanctify a space and summon spirits, deities and ancestors. It signifies a moment of reflection and quietude, a dedication from the earthly to the spiritual.
On returning to China from the United States in 2005, Zhang visited the Longhua Temple in Shanghai. Observing the incense-ash on the floor, he was moved by the symbolism of this material and decided to repurpose it through his art rather than see it discarded.
Ash has a spiritual significance for Zhang who sees it as carrying the hopes and prayers of those who originally burnt the incense. “In my eyes this work conveys the collective memory, collective soul and collective blessing of the Chinese people.” Collecting the ash and constructing Sydney Buddha requires many hands and hours. It is both an individual vision and a communal effort—a dedication to family, faith and culture.
For its presentation in Australia the artist has named this work Sydney Buddha. Originally named Taiwan Buddha, the work was first shown in the exhibition Zhang Huan: Amituofo at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei in 2010, and in Zhang Huan: Soul and Matter at the Palazzo Vecchio and Forte di Belvedere, Florence in 2013.
For over two decades Zhang Huan (b. 1965, China) has made art that examines contemporary issues through the lens of Chinese, Buddhist and Tibetan cultures. One of the most vital, influential and provocative artists today, Zhang’s work first received international acclaim in the late 1990s when contemporary Chinese art experienced an unprecedented period of exposure and attention.
Zhang initially trained as a painter, however it was through his performance works that he gained recognition. In the early 1990s he was part of a group of avant-garde artists and writers that established the Beijing “East Village” (after the neighbourhood in New York City). During this period Zhang made ground-breaking performances including 12 m2, 1994, where his body was the central medium of his work. He would undergo extreme acts of endurance and physical hardship that reflected his broader concerns with personal liberty and the plight of life in modern-day China.
In 1998 Zhang relocated to New York City where his work received extensive international exposure through inclusion in exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale, 2000; Yokohama 2001 International Triennial of Contemporary Art, 2001; the Whitney Biennial, 2002; as well as major solo exhibitions in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, France, Canada, Denmark, Spain and Germany, among others. For Zhang this period was countered with feelings of cultural dislocation and nomadism, as well as a renewed interest in his Chinese heritage. In 2005 Zhang returned to China to establish his studio in Shanghai, where he lives and works today.
Zhang Huan: Sydney Buddha will be presented at Carriageworks from 8 January until 15 March 2015. Zhang Huan will travel to Sydney for the opening of Sydney Buddha and will give a free public talk at Carriageworks on Thursday 8 January at 4pm.
Carriageworks is the largest and most significant contemporary multi-arts center of its kind in Australia. Carriageworks engages artists and audiences with contemporary ideas and issues. The program is artist-led and emerges from Carriageworks’ commitment to reflecting social and cultural diversity. The Carriageworks artistic program is ambitious, risk-taking and unrelenting in its support of artists.