Born in Daqing, Heilongjiang Province in 1973, Zhang Dan studied at the Oil Painting Department of the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts from 1992 to 1999 and has stayed there as a teacher. He is currently the director and associate professor of the Contemporary Art Department of the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts. Since 2003, with numerous visits overseas and observation and understandings of various art scenes, Zhang Dan has been reflecting on his previous way of thinking about techniques and customs inherent in the neoclassical paintings, and actively absorbing the beneficial elements from Chinese and Western art, in order to discover his own artistic language and approaches to
problems in exchanges with foreign artists and institutions.
This exhibition presents the artist’s understanding of ecology and the existence of life, and his exploration of the unknown world. Human cognition of the world is still very limited to this day and the mystery and magic of life has always wondered Zhang Dan, leading him to explore the unknown world. The artist’s focus has long been on the individual life and the examination of connections between everything from macro to micro world.
As the title “Eco-Theater” suggests, the exhibition reveals itself in the form of a four-act play, one theme for a hall, progressing step by step according to the development of life, with the first act being “Germination”, the second “Insects Awaken” , the third “Utopian Memories” and the forth “Rebirth”. It embodies the cognition of the existence of life, and the exploration and observation of the unknown world.
The first part opens up the prelude to life. Here presents Zhang Dan’s recent easel paintings. With willful brush strokes and dazzling colors, the initial rhythm and birth of life welcome viewers with enormous primitive energy and lead them to the next act.
In the second hall, Zhang Dan uses woodcuts, videos, paintings, and installations to show the state of the ecosystem, where the germination of life takes place, various dormant creatures wake up with a burst of energy. On the right side, the work Insects Awaken is composed of wooden panels carved by the artist and covers the entire wall. It depicts the vitality of fish, birds and a range of wildlife in nature, showing the artist’s understanding of the ecosystem. With the growth of life, the salvation of the soul also unfolds. Another work Lost Glory consists of ready-made wooden molds for the oil pumping machine, dead wood with wings, and parachutes, a metaphor of the prayer for and helplessness of life itself.
In the third hall, the topic of “Utopian Memories” is demonstrated by means of video, installation and painting across time and space. The artist sees the germination and variation of each system and the interaction and energy flow between the elements in the system as an outsider. The works depict the memory of Zhang Dan’s imagination. On the left side is the video Eco-Theater, recording the survival of snails, turtles, crabs, and frogs in an artificial environment. It metaphorically expresses the panic, anxiety, and helplessness of the organism under the intervention of human factors. The wall on the right side is covered with six screens displaying the video of Crow, with the electric lines exposed. It’s an analogy of the symbiosis of an electronic world and natural ecology, as well as an allusion to the ultimate life and the expectation of future. The centerpiece is Past Memory, a small-scale installation made of wooden molds, showing a moving city ruin. It is also meant to be a small monument. The ceramic faucet in the installation seems a peep into the gap between the unknown places of life. Through the integration of his experience of the world, the artist carries out scene replacement and reorganization of life in the ecosystem, metaphorizing the idiosyncratic role humans play in the universe and in their pursuit of the utopian future.
In the last hall are the collage painting of Life and the Eco-system Series. Each piece in the collage is layered upon one another on the remnants with color-painted transferred prints, presenting a vigorous natural ecological landscape. The Eco-system Series is inspired by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe’s belief that the city should be seen as an ever-growing jungle, where sunlight, air, germs, humans, animals, information, wars and interests constitute an correlating network, and the observation and reflection of humans offer more possibilities for its continuous development and extension into a multi-dimensional life. The combination of dazzling colors, arc lines with varying density and the collage of various materials, presents complex and dense details intertwined with each other. It is a portrayal of the urban jungle we are in, and of the intricacy and splendor of multidimensional life forms. In the collision of elements, life undergoes withering and regrowth over and over again, the cycle of which shows the reincarnation of life in an endless manner.
Zhang Dan once said, "As always, I have strived to establish an ideal criterion to abide by in order achieve the goal, never deviating, but the reality is always against my wishes. So I don’t pursue it any longer and unintentionally break away from thoughts, thus creating metaphysical metaphors. "
This exhibition is an artistic expression of Zhang Dan’s multi-angled, multi-layered and crisscrossed perspective of the world. He focuses on the relationship between creatures in the ecosystem, the various fields that are constantly emerging, and the consequent rhythm of life, revealing the relationship between living things and the energy they release.