Jun Zhang on Systems & Stories

The artist discusses mythology, extraction, looking at the world through a non-anthropocentric lens, and researching the significant and varied roles of urine

How do folklore, myths and belief systems affect how you think about materials?

I believe folklore, mythology, and beliefs add a new dimension to my contemplation of materials. Particularly, when considering materials in an ecological context. Previously, I focused more on their physical aspects—how the extraction and transformation of materials could adapt to a more ecological future. However, folklore and mythology provide a new position for materials which beyond geography, existing between the realm of pure abstract energy and physical world, In this dimension, fluid imagery and matter reconnect to co-construct a magical reality. This helped me to not only focus on the physical properties of the material, and I also began to pay more attention to the imagery of the material and the relationship between this imagery and its counterpart in reality.

Your work 'adopts a de-centred and non-human perspective' - why is this important or interesting to you?

The anthropocentric perspective sees everything non-human as resources to be exploited and transformed for a “better" future, treating all "life" beyond humans as inert resources awaiting conversion into abstract tools. In contrast, ancient or minority cosmogonies, often marginalized today, view the universe as a living entity where humans, animals, plants, and minerals meaningfully flow within this life entity, both as and influenced by the energy that weaves an invisible energy web. For me, a non-anthropocentric view offers a universe system brimming with diverse life forms and more positive energy flow.

‘Urine Vita’ is a research project that explores urine-related historical tales, myths, folk medicine knowledge, and the intricate tapestry of food traditions.' What did you learn about urine during this project?

In this project, I gained an in-depth understanding of the significant roles urine plays in folk therapy, religious rituals, modern medicine, and pop culture. However, what particularly intrigued me was the imagery of urine in dreams, where in various regional mythologies, dreams about urine are often linked to the imagery of a great flood, which in turn is related to the transition between old and new worlds. Urine appears to be a crucial link between these worlds. Its dual symbolic nature—representing both filth as a bodily waste and sanctity or healing as in urine therapy or as a prophetic medicine—seems to echo its role as a connector of the old and new worlds.

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