In Shanghai we took the van into the deep suburbs to visit Zhang Huan in his new studio complex. The gates opened and there was a camera crew to record our arrival. We were taken first to a large, long space, as large as the Turbine Hall, where he was showing a monumental work based on a photograph of Mao and party officials, infinitely mournful, in ash, the lost dreams of his parents’ generation and of his youth. it was hard to tell whether it was political or merely nostalgic. Philip quoted Susan Sonntag.
Next, we saw a room of works based on braille, again the idea of a mute language, again in ash. The third large gallery consisted of a series of works made out of medicinal herbs: photographs of family life from Zhan’s youth, half preserved, emerging from fields of leaves. After a room of peasant wood carvings and a small chapel of more lyrical bird paintings, we walked into the Central Hall, filled with the hammering of workman and their blow torches, constructing a monumental bronze piece commissioned by a collector in Taiwan.
Beyond was a gallery with a mechanical Confucius and a construction of hides and carcases. Death, decay and melodrama on an epic scale.
So, we wandered round in the late afternoon sun admiring his collections of monkeys and tombs.