He Yunchang will do anything, as long as it doesn’t kill him
Beijing: Having his own rib cut out to turn into a necklace, enduring a slashing from neck to thigh — He Yunchang will do anything for art as long as it does not kill him.
The extreme performance artist’s face is flecked with scars from his shows. His blood-drenched, often naked masochistic displays are intended to demonstrate that some things are worth making sacrifices for.
Blood and gore: He Yunchang wearing the necklace he made during his project ‘One Rib’; (above) He, who is battered with scars from top to toe, is seen here (right) in a snapshot taken on April 18, 2014, with his mother, who is wearing the necklace, in his studio in Beijing. Pics/AFP
The 23-cm rib he had voluntarily surgically removed as China celebrated the opening day of the Beijing Olympics hangs around his neck on a gold loop, dragons’ heads biting down on either end.
The operation was intended to demonstrate his own individual autonomy. “There are more powerful people in society who make decisions for others, and there are rules and social morality which restrict people,” he said, in the raspy voice of a 120-cigarette-a-day smoker, during his stay at his studio on the outskirts of Beijing.
In one of his latest works, in March he painted the fingernails and toenails of 10 mannequins with his blood.
“My principle is that, if it’s worth the pain, then my safety comes second. But it’s important I don’t let myself die.”
His still photos, paintings and sculptures have been exhibited and sold across Europe and America, and are often almost as excruciating for his audiences to watch as they are agonising for him.
The artist has also stared at panels of 10,000 glaring watts of light bulbs to damage his eyesight, encased himself in a cube of quick-setting concrete for 24 hours, and burned his clothes while wearing them.
He once hung upside down from a crane for 90 minutes holding a knife in a rushing river, blood dripping from cuts in his arms made with the blade, in a symbolic mixing of the liquids.
“He Yunchang is an alchemist of pain,” said Judith Neilson, founder of the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney which specialises in contemporary Chinese art.
No anaesthesia, please
In a 2010 performance ‘One Metre Democracy’, He gathered 25 people for a poll on whether he should endure a knife gash without anaesthetic from his collarbone to his knee. The idea was approved by 12 to 10, with three abstentions, and a doctor carried out the procedure that lasted several minutes, with voters posing for a group photo afterward while he lay naked and bloodied on a bed.