Chinese performer He Yunchang says he will do anything for art as long as it doesn’t kill him. This includes enduring a knife gash from his collarbone to his knee with no anesthetic, having one of his own ribs cut out and turned into a necklace, and, most recently, painting the fingernails and toenails of 10 mannequins with his own blood. Lovely stuff.
“I want to convey the message that I am ready to pay a high price to show my concern” the 48-year-old artist told AFP.
“My principle is that, 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.”
In one the more bloody of his performances, titled “One Meter Democracy”, He gathered 25 people for a poll to vote whether he should be cut with a knife from his collarbone to knee with no anesthetic. The rather sadistic majority approved of the idea and doctors carried out the incision. Viewers were allowed to pose for a group photo afterward with He, who lay naked and bloody in a bed.
He said that operations such as this, and another where he had his 23-centimeter rib voluntarily surgically removed and made into a necklace, are carried out by private doctors, as public hospitals often (and understandably) refuse his requests, according to AFP.
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.
Naturally, the Beijing-based artist is friends with Ai Weiwei, who cheerfully described He’s work as “a mix of play, personal history, political message and poetic romance”.
He’s photos, paintings and sculptures have been exhibited and sold across Europe and America, where he’s also faced confrontation from authorities.
In 2005, police foiled his plans to stand naked on a rock atop the Niagra Falls for 24 hours and two years later, New York cops wouldn’t let him carry out a good ol’ fashion public game of naked mahjong.