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Metaverse Gets Big Dose of China Cred With Zhang Huan’s New NFTs

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On November 10, Chinese painter, sculptor, and performance artist Zhang Huan entered the non-fungible token (NFT) metaverse, presenting the first of three NFT works in the State Hermitage Museum exhibition Ethereal Aether. The first release, titled “Ash Square,” will be followed by two more pieces, “The Celestial Burial of an Artist” and “Poppy Fields.”

The digital artworks are the renowned artist’s first foray into the NFT space.

“The first NFT exhibition at the Hermitage aims to initiate a dialogue between the world’s top art museums and the current trends. This is the motivation behind the digital art I am creating,” Zhang tells RADII. “I am happy to be a part of this trend, actively or passively promoting some progress.”

Born in Henan in 1966, Zhang has long been on the cutting edge of China’s art scene, using unorthodox methods and mediums to distinguish his work. Now, with the help of new technology, he is adapting his bold artistic approach to suit the digital age.

Zhang has a reputation for using different, often unique materials in his creations, including his own body, paints, sculptures, and incense ashes.

In 1998, he was wrapped in a beef bodysuit and handed out pigeons to a crowd in New York City. The project, titled My New York, was among the works that earned him international fame.

Four years earlier, at 29, he filmed a performance piece titled 12 Square Metres, in which he sat on a Beijing toilet while covered in honey and fish oil, allowing insects to crawl on his eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and body. The hour-long display aimed, in part, to demonstrate the deplorable conditions of China’s public lavatories.

’12 Square Meters,’ Zhang Huan

“The Celestial Burial of an Artist” — one of Zhang’s three NFTs — is a nod to “My New York.” The ‘beefman’ has returned for the digital performance, which is a bit like a video game, and spectators can cut pieces from his body to give him a Tibetan Buddhist funeral. Also known as a sky or celestial burial, it is a ceremony in which scavenging animals eat the bodies of deceased loved ones.

“Poppy Fields” is an exploration of the nature of crypto, according to Hypebeast, which was developed from the “artist’s signature series recently featured in Dior’s ‘Dior Lady Art’ collaboration.”

Meanwhile, “Ash Square,” which has already been released, features a square, light gray screen with downward-moving dark gray streaks. The NFT piece seems to draw inspiration from some of Zhang’s other art, specifically his pieces created with incense ash.

Speaking of the message he is trying to convey through his experiment with NFT art, Zhang says, “No matter how the world develops, art will always make its voice heard at the forefront. The impact of the development of artificial intelligence on art, mankind, and this era is what I want to explore.” 

NFTs have become an increasingly popular phenomenon over the past couple of years as a means for artists to share their work and protect their intellectual property. However, not everyone is sold on the idea of blockchain-based artwork, with some arguing that NFTs commodify art and make it less memorable.

Zhang disagrees with this, noting that artistic creation is the most crucial facet of art and that everything has a price.

“Whether or not art has been turned into a commodity or commodities is not important. This is not the fundamental issue. What is important is creation. In this era, we have to admit a fact: Anything that is created is clearly marked with a price,” says Zhang.

“The reason why art is art is that it is defined as such, and the definition allows a lot of room for imagination.”

The three NFTs will not be sold during the exhibition but will be auctioned off at a later date. “The Celestial Burial of an Artist” will officially drop on November 20, while the release date for “Poppy Fields” has yet to be confirmed.

Cover image via EchoX

Tian Tian
    Tian Tian is a RADII staff writer based in Shanghai. She has been writing out of love for her whole life and has previously worked for GQ and Dazed. She tries her best to understand different perspectives and absolutely loves music. In fact, she is practicing to perform a piece by John Cage (not 4’33’’) while writing this bio.
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