Artist cares little about pain when making a point

Updated: 2016-07-19 07:27

By Lin Qi(China Daily)

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He Yunchang has three obsessions - unusual art, cigarettes and video games.

The first defines his work, while the second and third can be considered his life-style. He has developed varicose veins from playing online games for hours. What's more? He isn't interested in getting treated. "The doctor said I needed 10 injections. It's a headache."

But he embraces pain, both physical and mental, while creating as long as it doesn't kill him, which he says is the "bottom line" of performance art, his field. Agonies of varying degrees are the hallmark of his output.

The 49-year-old Beijing-based artist exhibits a self-tortured style of performance and sells related photos, videos and paintings.

His latest work is a 72-hour-long performance called Longevity Nut staged at a grand retrospective of his art, titled A Chang, currently on at Beijing's Today Art Museum.

At the exhibition's opening on July 8, some 250 kilograms of peanuts that had been soaked in water for days were put in containers on the ground and covered with a sheet of gauze.

In the middle stood a plexiglass table on which he spent the following three days, waiting for the peanuts to sprout - once germinated they are called "longevity nuts" in China because of their health benefits.

He neither ate or drank but survived on a method of qi gong fasting.

Artist cares little about pain when making a point

At the end of the performance, he told the audience and media gathered that it didn't matter how much weight he lost in the process.

The project reflects his ideas about immortality, according to the exhibition's curator Cui Cancan, who says He's body and the peanuts "symbolize the individual history of people ... and reveal how much one would sacrifice for what one believes in".

A video recording the whole performance will later join the rest of his works on the monthlong show A Chang, the title which his friends used to address him.

The show reviews his iconic projects since the 1990s, and traces the evolution of his understanding of performance art that has made him one of its most representative practitioners in China.

In his works, the artist keeps challenging his physical and psychological limits. Many of his projects may appear meaningless or crazy at first, but his endeavors critique elitism.

A lot of his performances are held outdoors. He says he likes the feeling of "merging" with nature through these practices at the risk of being hurt or falling sick.

A large screen at the exhibition projects videos recording Rock Tours around Great Britain, one of his most satisfying works.

He carried a rock along the eastern coast of England and then returned to the place where he picked it up from. The walk covered about 3,500 kilometers in 112 days from September 2006 to January 2007.

Through that project, he raised the universal question of the pursuit of material comfort.

Judith Neilson, founder of Sydney's White Rabbit Gallery that collects contemporary Chinese art including his, once said that He's performances are "silent rebukes" to Chinese society where people would even endure suffering for money, because they see it as the "ultimate protection".

During the rock-carrying project, he was inspired to conceive another work, Hai Yin, which literally translated into Chinese means "drinking the sea".

A video at the exhibition shows him standing in the sea along the coast of Qinhuangdao in North China's Hebei province, in 2011, and drinking seawater for some 30 minutes.

He raises in the work a question of how many days it would take for the world's population drink up sea. He examines the relationship between individual efforts and social progress.

"I used to believe that the so-called elites can lead the world toward a better future. But I've come to realize that what changes the world is the collective effort of individuals, either in a good or a bad way," he says.

 Artist cares little about pain when making a point

He Yunchang in his 72-hour-long performance called Longevity Nut in Beijing. Photos Provided to China Daily

Artist cares little about pain when making a point

(China Daily 07/19/2016 page20)