Zhang Huan was born in Anyang, Henan, China. He began his work as part of a small artists‚Äô collective known as the "Beijing East Village" located in a rural outpost of the city. The group of friends from art school pioneered this particular brand of performance in China and Zhang was often reprimanded by officials for the perceived inappropriateness of his actions. Zhang‚Äôs performances always involve his body in one way or another, usually naked, occasionally involving masochistic actions; he cites the body as a primary method of communication, describing it as the only means by which people experience the world and vice versa. By using quasi-religious ritual, he seeks to discover the point at which the spiritual can manifest via the corporeal. He uses simple repetitive gestures, usually regarded as meaningless work-for-work‚Äôs-sake chores. Buddhism, with its temple music, sculptures and philsophy are a prevalent theme in Zhang Huan‚Äôs work.
Three years in making, Donkey was completed in 2006 and was the very first mechanical installation Zhang Huan made after he transferred part of his artistic production from New York back to Shanghai. The artist was both overwhelmed and dismayed by the overbearing and standardized presence of high-rises in the city. He challenged the notion of development and questioned the homogeny of urban transformation by staging this absurd and provocative scene, in which a stuffed donkey is fucking a tilted Jin Mao tower, the foremost landmark in Shanghai and currently the tallest building in China. Known for its extra-sized sexual organ in Chinese culture, the donkey entered the toy-like Jin Mao with an enlarged and stretched steel phallus that moves in and out with a shrill jarring sound when the installation is switched on.