Born in 1975 in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, and educated at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, Chen Lingyang’s first publicly exhibited work, Scroll, was a roll of toilet paper, painted as a classical scroll might have been, with what seemed at first to be misty mountains, clouds and water. In reality, the paper was stained with her own dark menstrual blood. Shown in 1999 in the Yunfeng Gallery, inside the old Imperial Archives adjacent to the Forbidden City, the ancient solemnity of the surroundings made the abject nature of the work seem even more transgressive. Some may have interpreted her actions as an unsubtle satire of the masculine traditions of the literati, but art historian Wu Hung suggested it ‘reinterprets the hand scroll medium and its inherent temporality based on a woman artist’s knowledge of her own body.’ Chen’s practice focused obsessively for a
time on menstruation. Art writer Jinli He distinguishes Chen Lingyang’s work from the American artists: ‘Chen’s work, rooted in her cultural sensibility, expresses a totally different statement of women’s desires and conditions…’ arguing that a specifically Chinese allusion to Daoist concepts of yin and yang in Chen’s work is more important than its apparent feminism. Chen Lingyang followed Scroll with Twelve Flower Months, a series of photographs completed over the course of a year recording her menstrual cycle. The artist’s own body and bleeding genitalia are reflected in antique mirrors, with the traditional flower representing each calendar month. The representation of the naked body was never an established convention in Chinese art, which in itself marks out Chen Lingyang’s practice as a reaction against literati traditions, despite her use of their garden iconography. By photographing her own genitals Chen Lingyang challenges Chinese taboos against nudity and a generalised cultural disgust about menstrual blood. Her images are deliberately provocative, exploring a subject still hidden and secret. Chen Lingyang now lives in Paris, where she may have given up her art practice – her statements are intentionally ambiguous.
The White Rabbit Collection is one of the world’s most extensive and significant collections of contemporary art from China. With a focus on works created since the year 2000, the Collection contains almost 3,000 works by over 750 artists and continues to expand. Note that when you click on the link below you will be forwarded to the White Rabbit Collection website.