October 20, 2010

Zhang Huan: Hope Tunnel at UCCA Beijing

Zhang Huan: Hope Tunnel
Ullens Center for Contemporary Art - UCCA, Beijing
Through October 24, 2010

Zhang Huan’s Hope Tunnel is a curated social project related to the 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan Province.

Hope Tunnel is conceptual art on a grand scale, a monument to hope, a space in which art becomes a vehicle for awareness, philanthropy and the public good. A towering display of destructive power frozen in time, it allows us to reflect on the scale of recent earthquake disasters, commemorate the victims and contemplate the possibility of reconstruction and the challenges that lie ahead.”

UCCA Director Jérôme Sans describes Hope Tunnel as being “conceived by an artist who believes that art has the power not just to move us emotionally, but to galvanize us into positive action. We may be dwarfed by the wreckage of freight train no. 21043 and humbled by the destruction wrought by nature, but as the title reminds us, we still have the power to help—and to hope.”

Artist Zhang Huan calls his train “a witness to history” that should be preserved. “At a time when the whole world is looking toward the future, preserving the past seems more important than ever. Reflecting on the disaster, investigating the causes, mitigating future dangers and finding ways to live in harmony with our environment rather than trying to conquer it—that’s where the real future is, the tunnel of hope that leads us to tomorrow."

Moving beyond “art for the sake of art”

Hope Tunnel is more than just a train, an installation piece or a Memento mori that recalls our own mortality. It is a multi-faceted philanthropic project and an experiment in using art to serve the public good.

“As a non-profit public arts center, UCCA is in a unique position to carry out curated social projects such as Hope Tunnel. Free of the artistic constraints and profit motives that restrict many traditional museums and galleries, UCCA possesses the resources, vision and innovation needed to harness the social and philanthropic power of art.”

“At UCCA, we are committed to engaging not just with the “art world” but with society in general and the world at large. Through exhibitions, films and educational events that reflect what is happening in Beijing, in China and around the globe, we seek to create a forum for dialogue and a place for developing innovative solutions. “

“Art should be about more than just making pretty things and putting on spectacles,” says UCCA Director Jérôme Sans. “It means caring about the world around you and giving something back to society.”

The long journey of freight train no. 21043

When the Sichuan earthquake struck on May 12, 2008, freight train no. 21043 was passing through a tunnel in the border region between Gansu, Sichuan and Shaanxi Provinces. Loaded down with grain and aviation fuel, the train collided with a boulder, caught fire and became trapped in the tunnel's inferno. It took workers six months to dig out the wreckage, clear the tunnel and reopen the railway line to earthquake-damaged areas of Sichuan.

When he heard the news reports and saw the photos of the Sichuan earthquake and the train disaster, Zhang Huan was badly shaken. Realizing that the train had both historical value and emotional resonance, he decided to try to preserve it for posterity. After a long and complicated process, the artist managed to obtain the wreckage and transport it to his studio in Shanghai for selective renovation.

When two large carriages of the train are installed in UCCA's largest exhibition hall amidst railway tracks and quake debris, visitors are able to examine the wreckage and watch a documentary that follows every step of the train’s journey from a salvage company in Xi’an to Zhang Huan’s workshop in Shanghai to UCCA in Beijing. A percentage of ticket sales will go to the Red Cross Society of China Jet Li One Foundation Project to fund disaster relief and reconstruction projects in Yushu, Qinghai Province.

In conjunction with Hope Tunnel, two of Zhang Huan’s large incense-ash sculptures are on display in the UCCA lobby: Military Officer and Cultural Officer.


Internationally acclaimed artist Zhang Huan was born in 1965 in Anyang, Henan. He currently lives and works in Shanghai. As an active member of the Beijing art scene in the 1990's, he was involved mainly in performance art and was considered one of the foremost avant-garde artists in China. After relocating to New York in 1998, he became a full-time artist working in a variety of different mediums and giving artistic performances in major cities worldwide.

In 2005, he returned to Shanghai and established the Zhang Huan Studio, where he continues his artistic work, expanding into new realms and developing new forms. The ash-painting technique he created has added another method of painting to the art history books. Zhang Huan has also pioneered a variety of other techniques, such as sculpting in ox-hide, wooden door carvings, and woodcuts with feather additions, to name just a few.

In 2009, Zhang Huan directed and stage-managed the lyric opera Semele, performed at the La Monnaie Royal Theatre in Belgium. He is the first Chinese modern artist to direct a lyric opera. In 2005, Zhang Huan and his wife founded the Gao An Foundation, which establishes "hope elementary schools" in impoverished areas of western China. They have also provided scholarships and study grants to ten major universities in China.

Curators: Jérôme Sans, UCCA Director
Project Coordinators:Paula Tsai, Joy Bloser



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