Robot sage, ants and monkeys

Updated: 2011-10-30 07:46

By Zhang Kun (China Daily)

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 Robot sage, ants and monkeys

A giant bust Confucius sits in a pond of water. Provided to China Daily


Few artists could achieve creating a cohesive exhibition that juxtaposes Confucius and termites and monkeys. Zhang Huan, one of China's most famed performance artists, has just done that at his new exhibition at the Bund's Rockbund Art Museum.

Part of the exhibition hall was transformed into a giant cage, like in a zoo. Seven monkeys were put in there, together with a robot mannequin in the image of Confucius. Every now and then, Confucius will rise from his original lying position on the steel platform, and start a twisted dance.

Monkeys and humans have 97 percent of their DNA in common, so Zhang chose them to make a metaphorical presentation of human society. The monkeys used to hold each other tightly, frightened by the weird dance of the robot. That was when they were just put into the cage, but gradually they got used to it and settled again into their hierarchical structure, and resumed grooming each other.

Unfortunately, the monkeys were removed from the hall after the opening, as the museum did not have a license to display animals. Instead, a video recording of the monkeys' activities has been substituted.

In another exhibition hall, a huge bust of Confucius sits almost 4 meters high in a pond of shallow water. Made of silica gel, the statue presents the vivid texture of human hair and skin, including blemishes and the sage's famous buckteeth.

The exhibition, named Questions to Confucius, also includes a special iron house behind the museum, where a colony of termites are feeding on a giant log 9 meters long and 2 meters in diameter.

"The termites' society is just like that of human being," Zhang says. By presenting the termites' harmonious designation of "social roles", Zhang has tried to establish a metaphorical analog of Chinese/Asian social structure and inter-personal relationships, largely the way defined by Confucius himself.

"I want to ask Confucius where will Chinese people find the home for their spirits, whether China can find a way to sustainable development and how should we live our lives?" Zhang explains.

According to curator of the exhibition, Fumio Nanjo from Japan, Zhang Huan "has always managed to present something new and out of anyone's expectation, and his artwork, both the performance work many years ago, to his more recent paintings and installations, have been bold and insightful at the same time."

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Robot sage, ants and monkeys

(China Daily 10/30/2011 page15)