In Light of Chan Buddhism: Zhang Huan’s Solo Endurance Performances in Beijing East Village Open Access

Shen, Zheqi (Spring 2021)

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This thesis considers the early performance artworks by Zhang Huan, a Chinese artist now based in New York and Shanghai, who lived in China until 1998. With attention to two solo endurance performances produced in the artistic community Beijing East Village in the 1990s, 12 Square Meters (1994) and 65 Kilograms (1994), I highlight a split in their reception. While some scholars have considered these two performance artworks as an outright criticism against the repressive political regime and societal issues in Chinese society, others tend to impose an existential reading centered around the mind and body connection.

By discussing the roles of performance art in the ‘85 New Wave Art Movement and that of performance art produced in the 1990s, more specifically, in Beijing East Village, I argue that the political interpretations of 12 Square Meters and 65 Kilograms result from a false comparison between the two roles. Proceeding to reference three core principles of Chan Buddhism, one of the major Buddhist schools in China, I reflect on how each principle is demonstrated in these performances of Zhang Huan, namely a nondualist view of the mind and body relationship, mind-to-mind transmission, and the engagement of the everyday in Chan practices. My thesis therefore argues that Zhang’s performances are a form of inward exploration rather than an outward-directed process, making the artist question existing beliefs, seek his own truth, and induce the audience to engage in their own search for “truth.”

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Literature Review 8

A False Comparison 18

In the Light of Chan Buddhism 25

Conclusion 39

Images 43

Bibliography 54

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