The most committed and challenging performance artist of China, He Yunchang (b. 1967) has performed and exhibited worldwide. In his intimate and cathartic performances, psychological and physical stamina gains existential significance. In Dialog with Water (1999), he attempted over 90 minutes to cut a river into two halves with a knife while hanging upside-down from a crane; in Wrestling: One and One Hundred (2001), he wrestled consecutively with a hundred people over 66 minutes; in Casting (2004), he sealed himself inside a concrete block for 24 hours. Elsewhere, he undertakes journeys of self-discovery and returns psychologically transformed. In The Rock Tours Around Great Britain (September 24, 2006 - January 14, 2007), he carried a rock from Boulmer, on the northeastern coast of England, and returned it there after walking 3,500 kilometers counterclockwise along the perimeter of Britain. In Dream of Traveling—From Fukuoka Asian Art Museum to Mount Fuji (2009), he gradually emerged from a pile of 999 rocks while painting on each of them the imaginary routes of a spiritual ascension.
Some of He's performances have involved immense pain and interventions into his own body, including staring at close distance at 256 light bulbs for an hour, the surgical removal of one of his ribs, and most famously One Meter of Democracy (2010). In the latter work, 25 participants collectively voted to carry out the artist's proposal of having his own body cut with 1-meter-long opening without anesthetics and stayed to witness its fulfillment. While shocking at first glance, these works, like He's oeuvre as a whole, always reveal a deep engagement with both contemporary art discourse and classical Chinese philosophy, as well as a delicate sensitivity towards the salient questions of our time. By treating his own body as both medium and object, he turns abstract philosophical concepts and the amorphous transformations of our times into experiences that are concretely comprehensible and lived. Indeed, He Yunchang refers to his practice in Chinese as xianchang yishu or "live art" in distinction to the sense of "performance" as acting.
Born and raised in western Yunnan near the Myanmar border, He Yunchang graduated from the oil painting department of the Yunnan Arts University in 1991. He has held solo exhibitions at such major venues as the National Gallery of Belgium (2013) and Indonesia National Museum (2008). He has participated in group exhibitions at the Yokohama Triennale (2014); China Pavilion, the 55th Venice Biennale (2013); Fukuoka Triennale (2009); Performa (2007); Sharjah International Art Biennial (2003); and Busan Biennale (2002); as well as Groninger Museum, Gwanju Museum of Art, Seoul Museum of Art, and National Museum of China, among many others. He is the recipient of International Exchange Award of the Macao Museum of Art (2006) and the First Yan Wenliang Art Award (2011). His works may be found in the collections, among others, of the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China; Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney, Australia; Macao Museum of Art, Macao, China; and in the private collections of Uli Sigg and Jin Hongwei.