In 1991, Zhang Huan moved to Beijing to study oil painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. In search of affordable housing, he moved to the outskirts of the city where he established Beijing’s East Village—named after New York’s East Village—with like-minded artists in 1993. His
earliest performances, including 12 Square Meters, 65 Kilograms, and To Raise the Water-Level in a Fishpond, were created here. Subjecting his body to grueling tests of endurance, he developed a powerful visual language centered around the physicality of the body. In performances and photographs that documented his performances, Zhang Huan addressed both local and global issues, particularly as they related to the urban environment.

“My decision to do performance art is directly related to my personal experience. I have always had troubles in my life, and these troubles often ended up in physical conflict. This frequent body contact made me realize the very fact that the body is the only direct way through which I come to know society and society comes to know me.”


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