Six Accounts of a Floating Life



Production date

Object Detail

oil on canvas
5 panels, total 152.5 x 915 cm
Six Accounts of a Floating Life (2008) is characteristically literary in its density of poetic allusion and ambiguous narrative structure. Inspired by the memoirs of the eighteenth-century writer Shen Fu, it evokes the literati tradition of the handscroll, designed to be slowly unrolled and closely examined in scholarly gatherings called ‘yaji’. The handscroll represents the passage of time in an episodic manner: viewing a scroll is a sequential unfolding, intimate and revelatory. The size and format of a scroll makes the experience uniquely suited to a conversation between connoisseurs, poring over each new visual delight as it is rolled and unrolled. It is a method of painting that takes the viewer on a journey through time and space, both metaphorically and literally.

Bingyi describes Six Accounts of a Floating Life as a metaphysical love diary that describes life’s flow, its ‘shengming de huadong’. Its expressionist style and scribbly calligraphic line recall the innovations of early twentieth century painters, but the small figures scattered across the composition suggest, rather, the Chinese tradition of the wandering scholar. Each of the five (not six) panels depicts separate incidents, small moments in the passage of time, from the innocence of childhood to romantic love, its inevitable unravelling, and, finally, to death.

The original literary work is a multi-layered chronicle that tells and re-tells significant events in consecutive chapters, revealing new details and different points of view, shifting from private and domestic moments to public events and, rather surprisingly, to long descriptions of gardening and flower-arranging. Chapter titles such as The Joys of the Wedding Chamber, The Pleasures of Leisure, The Sorrows of Misfortune, and The Delights of Roaming Afar, are replicated in Bingyi’s appropriation of the text. The original memoir concludes mysteriously after only four sections, rather than the six alluded to in the title. (Two final chapters published in the 1930s were subsequently revealed to be fraudulent.) Bingyi similarly suggests an element of mystery with her five panels. It can be conjectured that the missing sixth panel represents an absence, a space in which you can insert whatever narrative you please, connecting the artist to her audience.
Accession number
Artist details