Zhang Huan is a Chinese born artist currently living in New York. The majority of his work is of a spiritual nature referencing his Buddhist upbringing. At the core of Huan’s work is the use of his body to convey themes of religion, displacement and environment. When artists say they suffer for their work it is merely a posturing or self-aggrandizing statement. However, Huan’s use of his body as medium goes much further, and his ability to transcend art and reach a meditative state in order to pull off his performances is impressive. Whether covering himself with seeds and allowing birds to pluck at and eat off of his body, covering himself with honey and spending an hour in a fly filled bathroom, or laying on large blocks of ice and self-inflicting a near hypothermic state, Huan’s abilities and sacrifices are for real.
Huan’s piece My New York, which is actually one of a series of works in which the artist tries to convey a lack of ability to connect with his environment and new surroundings, uses his body again to great effect. At the beginning of his performance he is covered with a white sheet, and then removes the sheet to reveal his body covered in a suit made of meat. Huan is a relatively short and slightly built man, but in his skin suit he has the appearance of a bodybuilder or superhero, with biceps, pectorals, and deltoids bulging. But this is like no superhero you’ve ever seen, as if he’s jumped out of a fifteenth century flaying diptych, Huan’s muscles are tempered by the idea of flayed flesh and the delicacy of it. This juxtaposition is an effective means of conveying someone not comfortable in their element, and the inherent dangers of being a stranger in a strange land.