zhang huan: q confucius at rockbund museum zhang huan: q confucius at rockbund museum
dec 23, 2011

zhang huan: q confucius at rockbund museum

zhang huan: q confucius rockbund art museum, shanghai, china on now until january 29, 2012

‘q confucius no.2’, 2011  silicone, steel, carbon fibre and acrylic 380 x 980 x 660 cm image © designboom

designboom has visited ‘q confucius’, a solo exhibition by chinese-born and new york and shanghai based artist zhang huan on display at the rockbund art museum (RAM). zhang’s exhibition is the first since the RAM renovation. the installation is zhang’s largest solo exhibition held in china and is a response to traditional chinese culture as told through the artist’s varied use of media. zhang’s collection, created specifically for the RAM ‘q confucius’ exhibition, included a sculptural performance piece, ash paintings, a gigantic sculpture of confucius and a planted, insect-laden installation outside of the gallery space.

the  installation was created by zhang in an attempt to address several seemingly insurmountable cultural questions– ‘faced with rapid economic and societal changes and energy and climate challenges, how can we achieve sustainable development? what responsibilities come along with china’s rise in international importance? where is the sense of spiritual belonging for contemporary chinese?‘ -rockbund art museum

the relationships between the modern human and his or her social, cultural and environmental relationships are poetically interpreted through the presence of confucius throughout the exhibition. zhang’s use of the figure as a symbol of moral and political philosophy, based in fairness and harmony, evokes an awareness of the deeper cultural understanding existent within the chinese audience.

image © designboom

image © designboom

zhang modeled the face of the chinese cultural icon from an anonymous painting from the ming dynasty, ‘portrait of confucius at leisure’. the massive silica-gel, mechanical bust of an unclothed confucius rests in a rectangular pool in the center of the gallery space, its breast rising and falling as if the object were breathing. the sheer size of the sculpture evokes a sense of reverence and spirituality in the viewer as they stand below the towering and life-like figure.

side view image © designboom

detailed view of confucius sculpture’s face image © designboom

‘q confucius no.6’, 2011 installation monkeys, tree, pneumatic device, steel bed, wire net 1200 x 1400 x 600cm image © designboom

‘q confucius no.6’ may be found in the in the vertical gallery space of RAM. a twelve-meter-high steel cage has been formed and within this steel structure, a robotic confucius lies on a nine-meter-long couch. the figure jumps up from his recumbent pose, moving quickly to attention. the robotic confucius is surrounded by a circle of trees housing nine living monkeys. during the exhibition, the monkeys move about the installation and are cared for by specialist keepers for their three month stay in the rockbund art museum. zhang chose to bring this lively element to the exhibition in order to articulate a metaphor of the earliest forms of human civilization, the primal needs for shelter, food, territory and proliferation. the robotic spiritual master and the monkey troupe are locked together to demonstrate the balance between the quest for higher consciousness and human desire.

when designboom visited the exhibition, the monkeys were not present.

image © designboom

‘q confucius no.6’, in motion image © designboom

detailed view of ‘q confucius no.6’ image © designboom

detailed view of sword and robe image © designboom

‘q confucius no. 3’, 2011 ash on linen 280 x 780cm image © designboom

the incense ash paintings are drawn upon two large canvases, displayed opposite of one another within the gallery space. one piece portrays christ and the apostles at the last supper and the other pictures confucius with his disciples. the third ash painting is found on the third wall within the installation and pictures a calm ocean scene. zhang’s ash-painted medium was developed as an investigation into the spiritual property and metaphysical connotations of painting with the residue of ash as a result of incense burned for religious offering. the juxtaposition of confucius and christ and the religiosity of modern eastern and western societies.

installation view image © designboom

additional ash painted perspectives image © designboom

detailed view of the ash painted work image © designboom

‘q confucius no.4’, 2011 ash on linen 280 x 780cm image © designboom

‘q confucius no.5’ ash on linen 150 x 280cm image © designboom

‘q confucius no.7’, 2011 steel, cement, wood, termites and ants 310 x 1200 x 330cm image © designboom

moving to the outdoor portion of the exhibition, the concrete and steel building by zhang and in union church square i n shanghai features an ancient tree-trunk housing colonies of both ants and termites. the twenty ton tree rests in the building which regulates an environment hospitable to the insect populations present. ‘q confucius no.7’ is in a constant state of evolution, the insects molding a new work at every moment. the termite colony has a very specific societal structure, maintaining perfect order as the creatures chip away at the wood remains. their presence in the exhibition is representative of the order, social etiquette and morality appreciated by confucian values.

image © designboom

image © designboom

image © designboom

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