Zhang Huan’s performance 65 Kilograms took place in Beijing’s East Village on 11 June 1944. The title bears reference to the artist’s body weight at the time.
The naked artist hung himself at the height of three metres by the ceiling of his studio. His body was suspended on ten metal chains, and the head was held by a leather belt. During the performance, he was accompanied by three doctors from a Beijing hospital, who assisted the artist in releasing 250 milliliters of his blood. The floor was covered with white medical mattresses; there was also an electric hotplate onto which drops of the artist’s blood were falling.
“I was completely enshrouded by the smell of burning blood, and this unbearable odor filled the entire space. Blood and sweat dripped endlessly, and because the upper torso was where the body's weight was concentrated, my chest was the most painful part and it was in pain for the longest time. My two hands were numb to the point that they were unresponsive, each finger felt swollen to ten times its size; my body increasingly ached, and I had to change position, but that only amplified the pain. Finally, the best thing to do was not to move.”
The room was densely filled with people – artists, critics and journalists who had arrived to see the performance. The air was stuffy. The temperature was around 32°C. The room was filled with the smell of burned blood and human sweat. After sixty minutes, when the pain became unbearable, the artist was brought down to the ground.
Born in 1965 in Anyang, in the Henan province, Zhang Huan is currently based in Shanghai and New York City. He received his BA from Henan University in Kaifeng (studies in 1988–1991), and earned his MA from the Central Academy of Fine Arts (1991–1993), studying oil painting. During that period, he moved to Beijing’s East Village, the semi-rural district where he first became involved in performance art. Bodily endurance was thematized in Zhang’s performances, and nudity became the signature of his works.
In 1998, Zhang was included in the influential New York City exhibition “Inside Out: New Chinese Art,” then moved to New York to live and work from 1998 to 2006. In 2006, he decided to return to China and opened the Zhang Huan Studio in Shanghai. Zhang began to focus on making sculptures, installations, paintings, photographs, employing about a hundred studio assistants in assisting him to realize his prolific, often monumental works. Zhang was awarded with China’s Robb Yearly Artist Award in 2010, and with France’s Legion of Honor in 2014.
(Magda Lipska / Theresa Liu)