01 Oct, 2009

Zhang Huan at White Cube

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Zhang Huan’s installation at the White Cube may have the art world enthralled, but what would a pig farmer make of transferring the sty to the gallery?

This exhibition by Chinese artist Zhang Huan is in honour of a pig named Zhu Gangqiang, which translates as “cast iron pig”. The pig survived under debris for 49 days after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed 60,000 people. In the show, we see live video footage of Zhu Gangqiang, and there are also a pair of Tamworth pigs living in a sty downstairs.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to see this artist. There were some books of his photographs, which were very graphic – lots of blood and odd sexual content with animals. He seemed to be naked a lot. But the live Tamworths in the gallery seemed happy enough. They had a very clean animal smell – a natural piggy must. The first thing I notice about an abused pig is its smell. It loses its dignity and will go to the toilet anywhere, out of fear.

I expect Zhang Huan chose Tamworth pigs because they’re friendly, amiable and good with human beings. They make good mums, and they are very kind, calm pets. Some pigs can be quite ferocious. When we have children on the farm, we always tell them not to put their hands into the pen: pigs have really strong jaws and 44 ragged teeth. Their jaws go up and down but also sideways, like a camel’s, so their teeth rip and tear.

In the gallery there is a tyre swing, which is a common pig toy. They don’t actually swing on it, but you can put treats inside the tyre for them to find, which is good for their mental and physical abilities. The only problem is that you keep having to think up new ideas, because pigs are clever: they get bored with playing the same game over and over again.

I’m not surprised Zhu Gangqiang managed to survive for so long; pigs have a natural instinct for survival. They’re excellent foragers – that’s what their snouts are for.

• Sharon Stanford is an animal welfare officer Mudchute Farm, London. Zhang Huan: Zhu Gangqiang is at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London SW1 (020-7930 5373), until Saturday.

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