I admire the performance artist Zhang Huan who uses his body in startling ways in live performances and pictures. When I was very young I saw his picture in a newspaper and wrote a poem about him – I admired him because he fled China to practice his art freely. He is very controversial in his home-country and yet he is the foremost performance artist from China who is recognized internationally. After many years abroad he returned to his country to set up a studio. His performances often touch on suffering and the endurance of the corporal body. When he puts his body in extremely uncomfortable situations, he tries to distance himself from his condition. He hopes for his mind to leave his body and when this happens, he can’t feel any pain. Zhang Huan says that “when the mind returns to the body, there comes an ever stronger feeling.” He is in a spiritual state of being.
Zhang Huan has traveled the world doing performances and one performance he did in Boston about books and reading was very poetic and relates to my daily activity. Zhang Huan describes his inspiration:
“When I was young, my mother often told me “ You have to study hard so when you grow up you have a bright future. ” But I never liked to read books. Whenever I read a book my mind always wanders off and I fall fast asleep. I tried many different ways to keep myself awake and concentrate. For example, I would bite my hands, stab my flesh with a pen, and in winter I would dunk my head into a pot of freezing cold water. I couldn’t help it, I would forget what I read immediately, so I read again and I still can’t remember, not to mention I couldn’t understand it at all. Later on, I had a great idea. Everyday I’d tear a page out of a book and eat it. The result was I couldn’t digest it at all, and I shit out the exact same thing as I ate. I had many dreams involving books. In one of the dreams I discover all the books that I have ever owned were being blown all over the sky by a mighty wind. Suddenly, in a split second, all the books were floating on the river toward the East. It was very unpredictable.”