This week’s photograph, or photographs, comes from Shanghai/New York based artist Zhang Huan. Huan’s work Family Tree (2000) is included as part of a newly opened exhibition at the Whitworth, Manchester, ‘The M+ Sigg Collection: Chinese art from the 1970s to now’. The M+ Sigg collection was put together by Swiss collector Uli Sigg and includes more than eighty works of Chinese art, one of the only collections of its kind in the world. In 2012 it was reported that, controversially, Sigg had decided to donate the entire collection to M+ museum in Hong Kong's West Kowloon Cultural District rather than any museum in mainland China. But the deal was done and now the collection will form the basis of the M+ Museum due to open in 2019. Before this happens the collection is on tour and the Whitworth showing will be its only outing in the UK.
Zhang Huan, who works across sculpture, performance, painting and photography, made this particular set of images Family Tree after several other works that allow colour, text or insects to consume and cover his face or flesh. One performance saw him sit immobile on a Chinese village restroom toilet covered in a pungent mixture of liquid fish and honey, allowing the flies in the fairly squalid toilet to envelop him. The nine images in this particular set follow the artists’ face over the course of a day as three calligraphers wrote names from Zhang Huan’s personal relationships and life, stories and memories onto his face. Zhang Huan’s appearance slowly changes, his features disappear and transform as the narratives are slowly built up. Zhang Huan says of the work on his website:
“I invited 3 calligraphers to write texts on my face from early morning until night. I told them what they should write and to always keep a serious attitude when writing the texts even when my face turns to dark. My face followed the daylight till it slowly darkened. I cannot tell who I am. My identity has disappeared.
This work speaks about a family story, a spirit of family. In the middle of my forehead, the text means "Move the Mountain by Fool (Yu Kong Yi Shan)". This traditional Chinese story is known by all common people, it is about determination and challenge. If you really want to do something, then it could really happen. Other texts are about human fate, like a kind of divination. Your eyes, nose, mouth, ears, cheekbone, and moles indicate your future, wealth, sex, disease, etc. I always feel that some mysterious fate surrounds human life which you can do nothing about, you can do nothing to control it, it just happened”
‘The M+ Sigg Collection: Chinese art from the 1970s to now’ is open at the Whitworth until 20 September. Free entry.