One Meter of Democracy

He Yunchang


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single channel video
12 min 15 sec [Pro Res file]
One Meter of Democracy (2010) challenged the endurance of viewers, as well as the courage of the artist. In a quasi-democratic process, He Yunchang invited around 20 friends to vote in a secret ballot on whether he should have a surgeon cut a one metre incision the length of his body, from collar bone to knee, without anaesthesia. It was carried by a narrow majority, with several abstaining. The performance was documented in video and photographs that reveal the emotional cost of witnessing this gruelling event. This work, sometimes also known as ‘Asking the Tiger for its Skin’ was also staged on a symbolic date: 10 October 2010 was the 99th anniversary of the Wuchang uprising and the Xinhai Revolution which led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China. The final image shows the group with sombre, shocked faces. Repelled by the ruthless self-interest and materialism he saw in contemporary Chinese society, He Yunchang’s transgressive act called into question the suffering experienced by the people; like the ritual endurance actions of the shaman, it suggests that transcendence is found through pain.
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