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Zhang Huan Studio

After years of living abroad, internationally renowned performance artist, Zhang Huan returns to China where an onslaught of inspiration affects tremendous change in his work. The artist ceases doing performances and instead concentrates on a studio practice that redefines the term "artist".

This film follows the day-to-day theatrics of Zhang Huan's 4000sqm studios which employs up to 100 people from throughout China and produces everything from huge prints to wood carvings, oil paintings, two-storey copper sculptures, and a diverse range of works made from incense ash. Trips to Buddhist temples and to a Halal slaughterhouse show the endless creative possibilities that today's China has to offer this dynamic artist. The film also explores of the notions of origin and migration for both Zhang Huan and his staff in today's increasingly itinerant atmosphere.

The studio consists of two, 2500sqm, former clothing factories separated by a 5-minute drive through Shanghai's rough, outer suburbs. The studio employs anywhere from 70-100 people at any given time. It houses the workers in dormitories and has a canteen that serves them 3 meals a day. There is a wood print studio that produces 14x20 ft unique prints, a wood carving studio where everything from reliefs and busts to free standing sculptures are the result of a collaboration between Zhang Huan and a crew of traditional Chinese woodcarvers from Dongyang, China; there are oil painting studios filled with recent art school graduates; a studio that hammers out enormous (up to two stories high, or 100m long) copper sculptures, and a division that is responsible for sifting, sorting and creating everything from paintings to tremendous head sculptures out of the artist's favorite material, incense ash. The ash comes from several of Shanghai's Buddhist temples, which the artist has contracted to supply him with the burnt offerings of their many devotees. After a recent visit to a Halal slaughter-house the studio is now working with China's premiere taxidermist on a project that juxtaposes the artist's own sculpted figure with the stuffed bodies of cows.

Besides running very much like a factory, with normal hours punched in by each employee, the studio has its own crating and shipping department, monthly birthday parties for the employees and department heads. The artists' new materials - all recycled from antique markets, temples or demolished farmhouses in China's hinterlands- speak to both the artist's own childhood as well as to the sophistication of a learned, international art star. Broken Buddha statue relics, from China's torturous Cultural Revolution, are now the inspiration for an artist whose entire career was founded on the most immediate, primal material, his own body. Buddhism, mysticism, tradition and the global market all collide in this artists' diverse and tightly run factory. There is now talk that the artist and his directors will be joined by both a Yi-Jing master and traditional Chinese doctor to consult on the direction of the studio and its works.


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