In one of Zhang’s best known performance pieces, he covered himself with fish oil and honey and sat statue-still in a public loo in one of the poorest areas of Beijing while his body was completely enveloped by insects, moving only to immersing himself in a river several hours later. Situating his body as a nourishing and abject microcosm, Zhang’s action was a direct response to the abortion and female infanticide resultant from China’s strict family planning laws; the physical extremity of the piece addressed issues of spirituality, the ability for the mind to conquer discomfort, and the purgative enlightenment of suffering.
Zhang’s painting, Insects No. 2, continues these concepts, but in a different form, establishing a self-referential lexicon and harmonious continuity of his practice. Presented as a vast colourfield, the surface of the painting replicates flesh: sickly pink and battered, pocked, scratched, and gauged, a tactile skin both tortured and flawed. The spindly bugs which punctuate the canvas are equally parasitic and autonomous, sequestered and isolated in the afflicted terrain.