12 Square Meters
Zhang Huan b. 1965, An Yang City, China
12 Square Meters
Gelatin silver print
image: 59 x 39 1/4 inches (149.9 x 99.7 cm); sheet (sight): 66 1/8 x 46 1/8 inches (168 x 117.2 cm)
A.P. 3/5, edition of 15
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Purchased with funds contributed by Manuel de Santaren and Jennifer and David Stockman, 2007
In the early 1990s, Zhang Huan and a group of performance artists set up studios in Dashancun Village, a poor suburb of eastern Beijing used as the city's dumping ground, and renamed the area the Beijing East Village after New York's downtown neighborhood that was the center of 1980s vanguard art. Antagonistic toward commercial artists who were settled in Yuanmingyuan, an affluent western section of the city, the collective participated in private performances deemed dangerous and subversive by Chinese officials and institutions. Zhang's early “Body Experiments,” part of this post-Tiananmen, avant-garde movement, explore themes of existentialism and corporeality. By using his body as the site of representation, Zhang's performances, documented through photographs, illustrate the artist's belief in the ultimate relief or transcendence that can be achieved through endurance. Among these abject yet lyrical performances, 12 Square Meters was a breakthrough work. Commenting on the squalid living conditions in Dashancun, Zhang entered a public latrine in the height of summer and proceeded to sit naked on a backless iron stool in the center of the room (measuring twelve square meters). This photograph shows the artist in a state of heightened awareness, his body covered with swarms of flies as they settle and feast on honey and fish oil. After an hour, Zhang walked toward an abandoned fishing pond and slowly immersed himself in the water, allowing the struggling flies to perish.