Zhang Dali, Chinese Offspring, 2005
Resin, life-size body casts
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Zhang Dali's intention throughout his body of work is to call attention to the changes taking place in Chinese society primarily due to the destruction of long standing communities. He wants to enter into a dialogue with his compatriots whom he sees as becoming increasingly estranged as the drive towards modernisation continues. His early graffiti work can still be seen all over the Chinese capital. His signature outline of a human head was found, among other places, on traditional courtyard houses marked for demolition. The artist called this graffiti work "Dialogue" and documented it by photography.
From the "Demolition" series, Zhang Dali went on to make portraits of migrant workers' faces and resin casts of their heads or entire bodies. Having a studio on the outskirts of Beijing, Zhang Dali became acquainted with a community of migrant workers who lives nearby. Migrant workers have emerged as a product of the urbanization and growth of the main Chinese cities. Mobility has come with reform and this is not always an easy choice. The cities have developed into places of wealth and opportunity, thus drawing all sorts of people in search of better lives. However with this growth of the cities and the introduction of so much from the West: architecture, food, fashion, social manners, etc. has come also great uncertainty. For the migrant worker uncertainty is one of the key elements of their existence. Zhang Dali wanted to bring these people and their hard, bitter lives to the attention of others, and did so by creating head and body casts of volunteers from among these people as well as painting their portraits in his AK-47 series.
The presentation of the body casts is vital to transmitting the artist's message. They are shown hanging upside down from ropes tied around their ankles. The imagery is shocking: hanging like carcasses of meat, in mid-air, in limbo. The artist uses the Chinese "dao xuan" to express being upside down in limbo without any inner strength to turn their bodies. These works capture the spirit, or lack thereof, of these workers. For Zhang Dali, his sculptures are living taxonomy, a human version of insect samples ("biao ben") except the specimens are
live people. It is a documentation of the species at a specific moment in history.