An interview with He Yunchang
October 3th, 2015, Caochangdi
I have no reservations in my art practice. My only requirement is to stay alive. I use performance art to express what I care about and what I despise. I recognize the imperfections and ugliness of our time, and I show them as clearly, sharply, and deeply as I can. To express anything, one needs first to decide on a means. I am not immune to fear. But when I create my art, I choose means that are beyond what we all can bear under normal circumstances. I need to bear all the worry, fear, and discomfort of regular people. Images contain an infinite amount of information. We need to look through them; a work cannot be revealed entirely [in images]. My works are not limited to my personal needs and feelings, but rather concern all the conditions and phenomena of our time. Many of them are focused on things I have seen or felt, things I am compelled to manifest and express. In such circumstances, I must bear any fear and risk.
Ever since I started in performance art in 1993, I've often thought that my ideas and feelings are well-suited to this art form. Today performance art still has room for development and the power to move. I remain committed to, passionate about, and reliant on it. Performance art is created in the interaction between artist and other participants, with a live presence and an indeterminate outcome. Utmost beauty is indeterminate and ambiguous. No matter how carefully I plan a work of performance art, it is completely unprecedented in execution and existence. I don't know what happens. Relative to other art forms, performance art is the most indeterminate in execution. Its transmission and reception in society are likewise indeterminate.
In every period of my life, my sensibilities have changed. Each of my works relates to my feelings and imagination of a particular period. The ugliness of society is due to humans. I feel not differently than everybody else. Certain outcomes require collective wisdom, others power, and still others generosity and forgiveness. Sheer force doesn't always result in something positive. Humans are the sole cause of the current state of society, and humans alone can alter its path. Joseph Beuys said that everybody is an artist. Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch, said that everybody has Buddha nature. Humans are instinctively aesthetic, just as they themselves possess the source of Buddha's wisdom. The key is to let it flourish in practice. Art belongs to the mundane world. It is indeterminate, young, energetic. Art brings a warmth and a sensuous aliveness to society. As long as humans exist, art will remain effectual and vital, although its vitality changes from period to period.
Not all my past works were forceful and direct; some were gentle and emotionally expressive. Dialog with Water was both hard and soft. A Rock Tours Around Great Britain and Caochangdi: The Tenth Generation had a subtle violence, at once gentle and forceful. After doing this for two decades, I may go in the direction of gentleness, which at present seems natural to me. Inherently the world has a positive side and a dark and pathetic side. It is like the sea, by turns tranquil and roiling. All we see in front of us may be blooming flowers and green grass while elsewhere a profound movement stirs. We can present the bright and the dark aspects objectively if we have a method. If we shift to a new method, we achieve a great balance. If we shift to a new strategy of presentation, we can present a different side of the world. Having entered and left behind the darkest aspects, aspects that nobody wants to confront and explore, I am moving to another realm, where I can still present my ideas about our times and about those aspects. This transition also relates to my age, my experience, and the condition of my body. I have already reached a level of saturation in [my previous practice] and don't wish to repeat myself. This transition will have a long-lasting impact and is thus crucial.