Zhang Dali, Chinese Offspring, 2003
Mixed media: resin mixed with fibreglass 15 life size cast figures
Average height 170 cm each
According to the artist, immigrant workers who have traveled from the rural areas all over China to earn a living in construction sites in Chinese cities, are the most important members of the Chinese race, who are shaping our physical reality. Yet, they are the faceless crowd who live at the bottom of our society. To cast them in resin is a way to recognize their existence and contribution as well as to capture a fast-changing point of time in the Chinese society. From 2003 to 2005, Zhang has portrayed 100 immigrant workers in life-size resin sculptures of various postures, with a designated number, the artist’s signature and the work’s title â€œChinese Offspringâ€ tattooed onto each of their bodies. They are often hung upside down, indicating the uncertainty of their life and their powerlessness in changing their own fates.
Zhang Dali’s work actively engages with the rapidly changing environment in China. Zhang started working in portraiture as one of Beijing’s first graffiti artists, spraying and carving heads into the walls of the hundreds of buildings scheduled for destruction. Working across a wide variety of media - from urban art, to archiving photographs of Mao, and large scale installations - Zhang’s portraits document a contemporary social history of a culture in radical development and flux.
Chinese Offspring is one of Zhang’s best known works. Consisting of 15 cast resin figures suspended from the ceiling, each sculpture is a representation of a migrant construction worker, a vast underclass who contribute to the modernisation process at it most visible level. Since 2003, Zhang has made 100 of these effigies in tribute to their unsung heroism. Zhang’s work not only champions the individual plights of these transient labourers, but also records the one of the most important phenomena of new Chinese order: the growing schism between poverty and wealth. Zhang’s figures are hung by their feet to denote their vulnerability and economic entrapment. Each bears a unique tattoo issuing them with an edition number, the Chinese Offspring project title, and the artist’s signature of authentication - a normal practice in indexing art construed as a witty commentary on social engineering and population control