Where Does Paint Figure in Posthumanist Thinking and the Emerging Field of Critical Animal Studies? (Part 5b – Posthumanism and Painted Representation)

It also seems that artists recognise the value of using physical animal bodies to represent ideas about our relationship to the non-human.  Take for instance Zhang Huan’s Cast-iron Pig exhibition at the White Cube in London 2009 in which two live hogs were presented as spectacle.[1] Surely the real thing (or a stuffed version of) can’t possibly be paralleled or even surmounted by paint in terms of unavoidable presence? The argument here is that it can, and will be evidenced through a selection of contemporary painters in this final chapter (All posts on WordPress marked “Part 5 – Posthumanism and Painted Representation).

We can again refer to Huan’s Cast-Iron pig exhibition as a counterpoint. As well as the live animals presented in the White Cube, Huan also showed a series of monochrome works using ash on linen (Fig. 23).  The medium was used to depict a pig named Zhu Gangqiang (which means ‘Cast-Iron Pig’) found alive after being buried for 49 days following an earthquake in China.  After his rescue Zhu Gangqian went on to become something of a personality in his country and the artist felt compelled to record this in his work.  In his review for the show, Mark Hudson of the Daily Telegraph was more enamoured with these paintings than of the live pigs:

Even 10 years ago the idea of exhibiting live pigs in a gallery would have appeared to call the whole art-viewing process into question. But we’ve grown so used to headline-grabbing fun-art installations that Zhang’s pigs feel like just another addition to a list that includes Carsten Holler’s slides in Tate Modern and Antony Gormley’s plinth project in Trafalgar Square.[2]

Hudson goes on to say that Huan’s stylistic approach with regard to the ash paintings merges Eastern and Western traditions of producing art, drawing influences from Jeff Koons as much as from Communist-era social realist paintings.[3] My point here is that the critic not only dismissed the live animals as attention-grabbing and run-of-the-mill but also that he conversely lauds the paintings for their contemporary value as a historical commentary on art.  The paintings’ physical presence and ordinariness as a medium offers a connection to the viewer.  It is the gestural, human-made pointillist marks, the historical reference in the work and the representation of an individual pig-as-portrait that captivate.  In his essay on Everyday Painting, Barry Schwabsky supports this idea of the painting as commonplace with the fact that ‘ordinary art made by the ordinary artist is likely to be painting.  It’s an art that meets the beholder on a plane of equality’.[4]


Zhu Gangqiang No.4 Zhu Gangqiang No.11

Photos sourced from: http://whitehotmagazine.com/articles/2009-zhang-huan-white-cube/1952 and http://flavorwire.com/37714/zhang-huan/



[1] Giovanni Aloi, ‘Zhang Huan @ White Cube’, White Hot Magazine September (2009) <http://whitehotmagazine.com/articles/2009-zhang-huan-white-cube/1952&gt; [Accessed 19th February 2013] (para. 4 of 10)

[2] Mark Hudson, ‘Zhang Huan – Zhu Gangqiang at White Cube Mason’s Yard’, The Telegraph 7th September (2009)  <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/6151981/Zhang-Yuan-Zhu-Gangqiang-at-White-Cube-Masons-Yard-review.html&gt; [Accessed 19th February 2013] (para. 11 of 17)

[3] Hudson, (para. 13 of 17)

[4] Phaidon Editors, Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting, (New York: Phaidon Press Ltd, 2011) p.15