Born in Zhangzhou, China, in 1968
East Village, Beijing, No. 18
Gelatin silver print, 6/10
165.7 x 110.5 cm
Purchase, Marjorie Caverhill Bequest, inv. 2017.45
In 1992, a cluster of dilapidated farms east of Beijing became the site of a prolific art community known as “East Village.” Before it was engulfed by urban sprawl within a decade, it fostered the development of avant-garde art. Rong Rong contributed to its legendary reputation by shooting Xhang Huan’s iconic piece of experimental body art performed inside a filthy public latrine. Combining free expression and social criticism, the artist used his body as a tool for representation. The photographer transformed the sordid event into a dreamscape. Zhang is shown seated on a stool in the latrine, his body smeared with honey and fish oil and covered with flies. The ordeal reflected Zhang’s dialectical relationship with his environment: for over an hour, he blended with the surrounding mire and reconciled with it as he suffered, trying to maintain his composure under degrading conditions. Zhang likened this experience to the uneasy relationship between Chinese people and their environment, where unsanitary facilities are still found in the shadow of glamorous new buildings.