I Watch Myself Dying



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oil, oil pastel and charcoal on canvas
300 x 500 cm
A serious accident in 2009 in which Bingyi’s clothing was set alight by a candle flame left her very badly burned, subject to a series of traumatic and excruciatingly painful medical interventions and operations. I Watch Myself Dying (2009) expresses the horror of this experience, with the artist’s fragile body lying on the operating table under brilliant lights, watched by an alternate self who hovers above her like the soul leaving the body. This creature is Cyclops-eyed, with engorged breasts, pregnant with suffering. Malevolent faces crowd into the top of the composition, recalling Ensor’s masked figures in The Entry of Christ into Brussels. Part of a series of works entitled ‘Skin’, it’s an unsentimental representation of physical anguish, making deliberate references to Thomas Eakins’ nineteenth century medical portraits, and his paintings depicting surgical procedures. Cathartic and gestural, this painting recalls the work of Philip Guston, an artist who understood suffering, whilst her floating figures reveal a distinctly Chinese sensibility. The pink body of the artist lying on the table, organs and sutures visible on the surface, is like a pupa in the process of becoming. The most autobiographical of Bingyi’s works, it nonetheless reveals her scholarly and poetic approach, layered with dense literary and artistic allusion.
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