‘The feeling as the sun changes is that life is short. I feel so deeply we have to cherish our life and our time. Life brings an understanding of life.’ Zhang Huan
‘Created with 20 tonnes of incense ash and over five metres tall, Sydney Buddha is a meditation on the brevity of life and the cycles of renewal and destruction. Sydney Buddha is made of two parts facing each other. Zhang Huan examines contemporary life through the traditions and rituals central to Buddhist, Chinese and Tibetan histories.’ Sydney Festival.
The following is from a conversation with Zhang Huan and Beatrice Gralton, translated with Yolanda Tang. Details at bottom of post.
Art is complicated work – pay attention to issues in your heart – if you ignore things – you cannot share your art with an audience. It is important to feel change, then you can do something. The ash in Sydney Buddha represents oriental and Chinese soul and creation – these are in this artwork. (Zhang Huan)
What was significant during last night’s opening performance? (Beatrice Gralton)
The opening ceremony was a spiritual ritual – I felt a new feeling. Working with two traditional Australian Uncles (in a Welcome to Country ceremony), I felt a connection with traditional Australian culture, the south of the Earth. The Uncles burned traditional leaves, it then changed into the oriental tradition of burning incense ash. I felt the souls of the oriental east and west cultures communicating together with the south cultures.
What is the significance of the ash collected from temples?
I am a traditional Chinese person. From my childhood, this ritual forms half my life. Many Chinese people have a room at home for Buddhas. In villages we have Buddhist temples. On mountain tops we have big Buddhist temples. It is part of our lives. Burning incense, doing prayers and worship, it is common to us.
From my childhood to this age it is a constant in my life to burn incense. I have traveled within Europe, the U.S.A., Australia, I have visited many different Buddhist temples. It is connected closely with my life. I ask myself – why have I discovered incense ash after so many years of traveling countries and cities and temples?
Because I am away from my homeland. Distance has built up beauty. I deeply realise my countries traditions. I can ask myself who I am? Where I am from?
Now I know I am destined to be an artist, I know what my future will be.
I always meet young people, young artists who ask me – What can I do? What can I do to be better? I ask them – What is your name? What is your birth date? Where is your homeland?
This is what you ask throughout your life.
Talk about your studio in Shanghai. With over one hundred people, how do you make space to think?
It is not important how big the studio is – the most important thing is what kind of artwork the artist can create. Can I do something to influence the era? the future? can I add meaning and refresh art history? My role is something like the big monk in the mountain temple. I am the soul of the studio and the team helps me realise my ideas. I am a director and pay attention. I pay attention to visual art second by second. Usually I say stop – during the process – to see the beauty of the artwork.
Zhang Huan, Yolanda Tang and Beatrice Gralton then discuss other projects. A woman from the audience asks a question about the Sydney Buddha.
To me when I see incense ash, I see it is burned by many millions of Chinese people. To me ash conveys our collective memories, our collective hopes, our collective blessings. The huge Sydney Buddha brings all the memories, hopes and blessings of the Chinese people.