Until October 24th 2010 – Ullens Center for Contemporary Art
Every so often there comes an event that rattles our faith, shatters what we have built and shakes us to our very foundations. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake was one such tragedy. No one who witnessed the terrible destruction and loss of life will ever forget it.

Yet in the aftermath of tragedy there is hope, a reminder of what people working together can achieve. Zhang Huan’s Hope Tunnel , a curated social project at UCCA, was conceived and designed by an artist who believes that art has the power not just to move us emotionally, but to galvanize us into positive action.

When we behold the train that Zhang Huan purchased, refurbished and installed here, we may find ourselves dwarfed by the scale of the wreckage, dismayed by the destructive force of nature and daunted by the challenges that lie ahead. Perhaps we should feel humbled by the shadow of that awesome bulk, but as the title reminds us, while we may be small, we are not powerless. Through remembrance, reflection and concerted action, each one of us has the power to help—and to hope.

– Jérôme Sans, UCCA Director

Zhang Huan’s Hope Tunnel as a Rite of Passage

May 12, 2008. Sichuan Province. The earth, in a sudden outpouring of fury, buried both a loaded freight train and the arrogant idea that human beings can somehow conquer the forces of nature.

By making us witnesses to a scene that is neither real nor virtual but somewhere in-between, Hope Tunnel forces us to confront the way humans clash with or compromise with the environment. A work of art wrought from the wreckage of a disaster, it is also a curated social project that aims to inspire philanthropy. In each step of the project—locating and obtaining the wreckage, transforming it into a work of art, planning the charity component— we are witnessing the transformation of the artist himself.

In his ear ly work, Zhang Huan pushed the boundaries of personal experience and individual feeling. After emigrating to New York, he created dialogues about groups overlooked by mainstream society. On returning to China, he began making

large installations and incense-ash paintings that reflected his own cultural reawakening. Having abandoned the individual experience, Zhang Huan now explores the relat ionship
between Mother Nature and the human tribe. Hope Tunnel is the truest rite of passage, another step in Zhang Huan’s artistic evolution.

– Zheng Yan, Head of Art Department

At 2:28 p.m. on May 12, 2008, on an otherwise ordinary afternoon, the ground in China began to tremble. Something had fractured deep within the earth, rending and ripping, turning peaks into valleys and valleys into tombs. When the wave of destruction hit, countless fragile lives were lost and many more were injured. Sichuan’s once-lush landscape was turned into a desolate wasteland, a swath of death.

Freight train no. 21043 was carrying over 600 tons of grain and 12 tanks of aviation fuel through tunnel no. 109 on the Baoji–Chengdu railway when it collided with a massive boulder displaced by the quake and derailed. An hour later, the fuel tanks exploded, engulfing the train in flames and trapping two conductors in the engine carriage. It was a moment that will remain etched in our memories forever: a moment of great tragedy and suffering, but also of great love and determination. Both conductors were quickly rescued and survived the ordeal. It was the only railway disaster of the 2008 Wenchuan/Sichuan earthquake.

When I saw the news reports and photos of the train tragedy, I was badly shaken. In a single blow, our whole philosophy about human beings conquer ing na ture had been demol ished. I remember thinking that I should acquire the train cars and fuel tanks and preserve them. After a convoluted and frustrating process, I finally managed to get in touch with the salvage company in Xi’an that had possession of the train. By then, the oil tanks were already gone and they were planning to sell the remaining wreckage to a steelworks to be melted down. I asked them to hold the train for me and flew to Xi’an with some friends the next day. The salvage company didn’t care what I was planning to do with the train, but as soon as they realized I was serious about collecting it, they raised the price and said they were willing to sell it.

After the contract was signed, our technical director, photographer and a documentary team drove all the way from Shanghai to Xi’an. It took two weeks of hard work to transport the two sections of the train back to our workshop in Shanghai.

As a monumentally important “witness to history,”the train is worth preserving. At a time when the whole world is looking toward the future, preserving the past seems more important than ever. Reflecting on the disaster, investigating the causes, mitigating future dangers and finding ways to live in harmony with our environment rather than trying to conquer it—that’s where the real future is, the tunnel of hope that leads to tomorrow.

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