He Yunchang: Art runs in his blood

He Yunchang: Art runs in his blood
(Left) A photo of Chinese artist He Yunchang performing his artwork "One Meter Democracy" in his studio in Beijing, where he endured a slashing from neck to thigh; (right) He showing his scar he got when he performed the artwork.

Having one of his ribs cut out to make a necklace and enduring a slashing from neck to thigh, Chinese artist He Yunchang will do anything for art.

The extreme performance artist's head is almost entirely shaved and his face flecked with faint scars from his shows.

His blood-drenched, often naked masochistic displays are intended to demonstrate that some things are worth making sacrifices for.

The 23cm rib he had voluntarily surgically removed on the opening day of the 2008 Beijing Olympics hangs around his neck on a gold loop, with dragons' heads biting down on either end.

The operation was to demonstrate his individual autonomy, a decision he could take for himself "while many other things are out of my control".

"There are more powerful people in society who make decisions for others, and there are rules and social morality which restrict people," he told AFP.

In one of his latest works, in March, he painted the fingernails and toenails of 10 mannequins - with his blood.

"I want to convey the message that I am ready to pay a high price to show my concern (about the world)", said the 48-year-old father of one.

"If it's worth the pain, then my safety comes second. But I keep things under control. It is important that I do not let myself die."

His photos, paintings and sculptures have been exhibited and sold across Europe and America. Their popularity derives from his drastic performances, often as excruciating for his audiences to watch as they are agonising for him.

In a 2010 performance titled 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 incision over several minutes, with voters posing for a group photo afterwards while he lay naked and bloody.

He also stared at panels of 10,000 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.

Among his less extreme endeavours, he carried a stone from a beach in England on a 112-day journey over 3,500 km by foot - only to put his travel companion back where he had found it.

He has run into trouble with officialdom, surprisingly in the US.

In 2005, the police thwarted his attempt to stand naked on a rock atop Niagara Falls for 24 hours.

This article was published on May 10 in The New Paper.

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