Land: Zhang Huan and Li Binyuan brings together a selection of performance works by two Chinese artists of different generations, both of whom address the changing relationship between the body and the land in contemporary China. Comprising works that mirror shifts from collectivism to individualism, as well as tensions between the natural, the cultivated, and the urbanized, the exhibition juxtaposes videos and photographs of early performances by Zhang Huan (Chinese, b. 1965) alongside documentation of more recent performance works by Li Binyuan (Chinese, b. 1985) to reflect on evolving ideas of ownership, belonging, and alienation.
In the 1990s, Zhang Huan orchestrated encounters between the body and the landscape in ways both poetic and political; performers stacked their naked bodies on a mountain to increase its height, or submerged themselves in a pond to raise its water level, suggesting an intimate desire to merge with the land or to be immersed within it. Provocative, controversial, and impactful for a younger generation of artists, Zhang’s celebrated performances helped define China’s post-1989 avant-garde.
Li Binyuan draws on many of the strategies pioneered by Zhang Huan. His works often consist of sustained physical efforts, such as setting his body against rushing water from a burst roadside dam or repeatedly scaling a bamboo cane only to fall back to the ground. In one of his better known performances, the artist spent two hours leaping through air and falling into a muddy patch of soil that he inherited following his father’s death. Both a work of mourning and a way of marking the legal and generational transfer of property, Li’s act of endurance points to the changing value and significance of land in China during recent decades.
Organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Director, MoMA PS1, and Chief Curator at Large, The Museum of Modern Art; with Oliver Shultz, Curatorial Assistant, MoMA PS1.