Junwei Zhang’s artworks often culminate in a series of created binaries: distinctions between the self and the other, reflections of materiality and immaterial ideas, and the physical versus the abstract. Using a variety of found and created materials, the physical manifestations of Zhang’s artworks serve to bridge the gap between these created binaries. Zhang’s work is often accompanied by poetic prose to further the reflective nature and mythical connotations evident in his sculptural designs. Zhang’s contemplative and interactive practice represents collective individuality through viewer participation.
Zhang’s project is one of monumental proportions. A Well takes form as a grand sculptural structure composed primarily of tires. The sculpture is meant to look like an oversized well, with 120 tires stacked in a circle on top of each other to reach a height that dwarfs human scale. An attached wheelchair-accessible ramp (in his exhibition, the ramp was replaced by a playground slide) and staircase share a platform that sits off the sculpture’s edge. Viewers are encouraged to traverse the ramp and/or staircase and peer off the edge of the sculpture into the void below. Once at the edge, the viewers, overwhelmed with the smell of tires, gaze towards a screen projecting images of water, the sky, and clouds found at the bottom of the piece. An interactive camera furthers the viewer’s interventions, projecting their reflection onto the screen below. However, Zhang distorts the viewer’s reflection to appear grainy and unrecognizable, further conflating distinctions between the natural and unnatural as they gaze deep into the well.
In concert with his use of tires, Zhang’s oeuvre is connected through repeated motifs of transportation and mobility. For one such example, titled From West to East, Zhang used collected tires shreds to create an abstracted profile of the United States. Twisted topographical forms represent the mountain ranges and river valleys that mark the American landscape. A Well similarly incorporates tires but they are left intact. Zhang intentionally chose tires from the popular Toyota Camry and Corolla cars. The use of this particular brand emphasizes underlying themes of accessibility and availability to physical space. However, the performative aspects of A Well simultaneously suggest a limitation in reach to each individual’s internal space. Thus, A Well serves as a compelling thesis for Zhang’s practice through its representative relationship between the physical artwork and the body created through movement.
Ph.D. Student, History of Art and Architecture