Public Art Project

Peace, 2003, Cast Bronze Bell and Cast Bronze Body, 11.2(H) x 12.6(L) x 12.6(W)Ft
Creative Times Presents

in Art on the Plaza , September 2003- April 2004

Opening Performance by the Artist
October 7th, 6:30pm

The Plaza, Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, 2 West Street and Battery Place
Zhang Huan’s Peace elegantly stages several relationships: an artist’s corporeal investment in his or her practice; the often spiritual rift between an immigrant’s native and adopted cultures; and the role of the public in physically engaging an artwork. Resembling those in traditional Chinese temples, the bronze bell in Peace charts eight generations of Zhang Huan’s ancestors, who are inscribed by name in Chinese characters on the bell’s exterior. Beside the bell hangs a gilded cast of the artist’s naked body a surrogate for Zhang Huan himself- floating perpendicularly at chest height so that, when pushed, the figure’s head sounds the bell. Both body and bell are framed and contained within an open-air, four posted steel structure, giving Peace a shrine-like quality.

The figure of the artist, which was cast directly from his body, has an intimate realism that includes goose bumps, the fine lines of the Achilles tendon, and raised veins from the artist’s clenched fist. Without our intervention, the surrogate hangs statically, a hand’s length from the bell. But pushing the figure by the side or feet, however, we change from audience to participant, from spectator to accomplice. As the bell sounds and continues to resonate, Peace comes to life, radiating low tones and, through them, strata of the artist’s history. The bell is a mnemonic for ritual and lineage and by striking it, Zhang Huan, a New York resident, is reunited with his native home and ancestry.

Peace tells Zhang Huan’s story and gestures towards that of the immigrant and the artist at large. James Joyce, who also lived in exile from his native country, reported stated, "hoc est corpus meum" (this is my body) upon receiving the first printed copy of Ulysses. Immigrating to a new country and expressing the experience artistically requires a certain objectivity or detached consciousness, which Zhang Huan implies in the distance between his surrogate and the bell, and the figure’s ascetic rigidity. But Peace is also a testament to Joyce’s notion of the total- and in Zhang Huan’s case, literal- investment of the self in the making of art, and suggests an inherent detriment to an artist engaged in such immersive, even sacrificial, creative pursuits.

Peace summons us to complete the work of art and, in doing so, enact a confrontation between Zhang Huan’s past and present lives. It may be that, through our participation, the artist reconciles this conflict, if only for the duration of the bell’s resonance.
(Above wrote by Claire Barliant)

Creative Time’s Art on the Plaza is an ongoing public sculpture series featuring new works by internationally acclaimed artists on the Plaza of the The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, and is presented in cooperation with Millennium Partners and The Battery Park City Authority.

Creative Time and The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, in cooperation with the Battery Park City Authority, are pleased to present Art on the Plaza, a long-term program of site-specific, temporary and multidisciplinary artworks located on the plaza of the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park. Coming home to Battery Park City, one of Creative Time’s first venues, Art on the Plaza builds on Creative Time’s thirty-year history of enriching New York’s public spaces with adventurous public artworks of all disciplines by innovative artists. Art on the Plaza also complements the Battery Park City Authority’s renowned commitment to commissioning permanent public sculpture by international acclaimed artists.

Creative Time presents Peace, an elegant sculpture by celebrated Chinese artist Zhang Huan exploring ancestral history and ethnic assimilation. Peace, the third installation in Creative Time’s multidisciplinary public sculpture series, Art on the Plaza at The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, opens in late July, 2003 and will remain on view through April, 2004. Creative Time will also host a public performance by the artist on the Plaza the evening of Tuesday, October 7, 2003 at 6:30p.m., in which Zhang Huan will be joined by members of the Shaolin Temple, known for its unique Kung-Fu practice and Buddhist culture.

Peace embodies the relation of experience to environment, identity to culture, and body to spirit- the cardinal themes of Zhang Huan’s work, which includes performance, photography, and sculpture. In Peace, a large bell modeled after those found in Chinese temples hangs next to a gilded life cast of the artist’s naked body. The bronze bell is inscribed with the names of the artist’s ancestors from his native village in China while the rigid perpendicular body bears naturalistic details such as creases in the skin and strands of hair. Viewers are invited to drive the body into the bell, thereby forcing a confrontation between the artist and his ancestral past.

The participatory nature of Peace cannot be fully understood outside the context of Zhang Huan’s performances, which began in China in 1993 and have since evolved to occasionally engage his sculptural installations. Zhang Huan’s conviction that he can archive the rawest form of artistic expression by employing his body as an artistic medium has led him to enact often-gruesome physical feats, which, in his words, "enable one to understand, and enrich one’s knowledge of life." Peace is a performance by proxy: the cast is a surrogate for the artist himself while the sounding of the bell by viewers is experiential. The bell vocalizes the clash of cultures in which Zhang Huan is suspended and, within view of Ellis Island, even asks viewers to consider their own relationship to ancestry and identity.

New BPC Installation Rings true for Artist (News from The Tribeca Trib)
by Barbara Aria

The massive bronze bell was in place, suspended from a steel frame like the classic temple bells of Buddhist China. But the other half of Zhang Huan’s Peace, which was being installed late last month in Battery Park City, was still at the gilder, its gold leaf drying. It is the life-size cast of the artist’s naked body, which doubles as a hammer that viewers can use to sound the bell.

Huan, whom the Trib spoke to late last month on the site of his installation at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel plaza, was taking things in his stride. He’s dealt with delays before. When an earlier edition of Peace was installed in Toronto, Huan said, the show opened before the body was finished, and so he suspended himself in its place and let his own head be slammed into the bell.

For him, it was a natural solution: As an artist in China, from where he emigrated five years ago, Huan was celebrated by some peers and rejected by the establishment for a type of performance art that, like the work of Chris Burden and other ’70s American conceptualists, revolved around self-imposed bodily ordeals.

But not anymore, said Huan. "Change is life," he explained. "Life changes, art changes." Since his move to this ephemeral city, he has begun to want performance. "With a performance, once the moment is finished, I only could see the photo or video of it. Now, I want to keep the moment for a long time."

The artist is planning a performance piece at the installation, on Oct. 7. He said that it will involve himself, a group of Shaolin monks and, possibly, a flock of doves; Huan was still working on the idea, but said that it would be unlike his previous performances.

Peace, a project sponsored by the public-art nonprofit Creative Time as part of its Art on the Plaza series (the work will be in place through April, 2004), has a serene elegance that stands in sharp contrast to the artist’s earlier work, whose harsh and immediate quality reflected the experience of living in a poor section of Beijing dubbed the "East Village" by local artists. One of his best-known works, 12 Square Meters, involved his sitting naked in a filthy latrine, covered in honey. Soon, flies were crawling all over him. Today, 24-karat gold replaces the honey-and-fly coating.

"When I moved to New York, I saw that gold is very important. Everybody needs gold," said Huan, for whom gold represents the now. "The body is shiny and golden and new--it’s New York, the human. The bell is family, country, the world."

Inscribed on the outer surface of the bell are the names of eight generations of Huan’s family members, all from the same village in central China where he was born and raised. Swing the golden body into the bell produces a low, long sound--at close range, it can be heard for almost five minutes--that, said Huan, represents the collision of old and new and, for him, the voices of his ancestors.

"I want to hear what the family says," he explained.

Hearing Huan speak, it seems as if Peace comes, in part, from his struggles acclimatizing to New York. "It’s getting harder, not easier," he said. "In China, I stand on the land. Here, I’m not really part of the land."

Surrounded by the inexplicable and new, he appears to find firm ground in his native cultural traditions, including Buddhism.

"This spring, I visited a temple on a mountain in China where people can strike the bell nine times," Huan said. "Before swinging the hammer, you make a wish for the future. For me, peace is a very important dream."