New York-based artist Zhang Huan integrates a variety of media into his art, ranging from performance and installation pieces to photography, sculpture, and painting. Initially, his artistic practice grew from a response to the expressive limitations of living in a rigid society. Today, the China-born artist continues to devote himself to social issues through conceptual and performance art.
The artist uses ashes as a base for many of his paintings and sculptures. Ash Head No. 1 is a sculpture constructed from incense ash collected from Shanghai temples. The ash, collected on a weekly basis, is sorted into piles of different tones and grades; the coarse dust sifted from the fine dust, and the light and dark tones separated as well. The use of ashes is symbolic in its representation of religion and prayer, and has a cultural and historical importance to the artist. Zhang Huan sees incense ash as infused with "all the dreams, aspirations, all the spiritual longings, all the ideas that people have."
The sculpture is based off of the artist's own head, and can loosely be considered a self-portrait. According to his website, Zhang Huan says that he "intends for the ash heads to shed a certain amount of their surface material over time; in so doing, they confound the notion of a homogenous, stable identity, instead presenting a mutable subject constantly redefining itself."