This article explores the aesthetic of the grotesque in Lu Yang’s recent work Delusional Mandala (2015) and Delusional World (2020). I argue that the aesthetic of the grotesque envisioned in these two works becomes a radical tool for the artist’s deconstruction and dismantling of the socially and culturally sanctioned boundaries of corporeality and normativity. My approach to Lu Yang’s aesthetic of the grotesque is based on Sara Cohen Shabot’s theorization of grotesque philosophy and the grotesque body as well on the concept of faciality proposed by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1980). Two questions guide my reflection and readings in this article: What are the characteristics of the grotesque aesthetic in Lu Yang’s films? In what ways does this aesthetic deconstruct concepts such as the human and normativity?
Lu Yang’s Art and an Organological Redefinition of the Human in the Planetary Age
Studying artworks on the human body and the brain, as exemplified by Lu Yang’s work, enables a new perspective in the debates over the redefinitions of the human, whether anthropocenic redefinitions of the human (in the scholarships of the Anthropocene, posthumanism, new materialism, and speculative realism) or a technoscientific redefinition of the human (in the scholarships of technological transformations). Not only does Lu Yang question the defining properties of the humanness but the artist also creates an organological form of the human. This organological perspective enables an aesthetics of futurism based on both a nonreproductive kinship between the human and the nonhuman, and a new regime of the future grounded in the habitability of the human as a more-than-human agent in the planetary age.
Climbing, climbing the circular staircase of a decaying art deco apartment house, a throwback to Old Shanghai’s grandeur in the 1930s, I felt like I was stepping back in time. It was fall of 2011, and I was accompanied by a twenty-seven-year-old artist named Lu Yang who led me on this upward trek to a studio. As Lu Yang opened the green door to the space, I was immediately thrown forward from the past to the future. The darkened room was packed with computer monitors flickering with the running text of chatrooms. Aquariums, filled with dead frogs floating in formaldehyde, gave off an eerie green light. There were no sketches or paintings or anything like traditional art making. What an awakening! I realized that this was the kind of art I had been searching for on my trips to China since 2004. I was looking for an artist whose work reflected the enormous upheaval of the Reform era, the influx of Western goods, the possibilities of the internet, and the shock to the psyche that these changes had wrought. Lu Yang completely fit the bill.
An Analysis of Lu Yang’s The Great Adventure of Material World
The Material World Knight is an anime-style superhero from Lu Yang’s artwork The Great Adventure of Material World—Game Film (2020) who battles oppressive binary systems on his quest for transcendence. This article uses discourse and visual analysis to study how this short film employs references to Buddhist philosophy and Japanese anime to reconceptualize subjectivity. The study draws on posthuman theory by Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway to show how the artwork produces a post-dualist, posthuman, relational concept of subjectivity while also complicating any straightforward interpretations in favor of maintaining complexity and “staying with the trouble.”
Lu Yang’s Live Motion Capture Performances
Ashley Lee Wong
This article explores MetaObjects’ ongoing collaboration with Lu Yang to develop a live motion capture performance. As a studio facilitating digital production with artists, the knowledge acquired delves into the worldview of the artist reflected in works and in practice. Lu Yang’s work is inherently collaborative and evolves in increasing complexity with each iteration. Similarly, reincarnation and repetition are present in Buddhist conceptions of cyclic existence and the wheel of life. Lu Yang connects an interest in folk beliefs and Chinese medicine to neuroscience presenting a multi-layering of temporalities in contemporary culture. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the performance was transformed into an online experience, deepening Lu Yang’s interest in digital reincarnation. The work presents an interest in digital reincarnation where identities are fluid and open to reinvention in the virtual realm.
Buddhist (Un)reality, Thought Experiments, and the “Ecological Dharma Eye” in Lu Yang’s Material World Knight Game Film
This article argues that the conceptualization of the (un)reality of the phenomenal or material world (qishijie) in Lu Yang’s animated short Material World Knight Game Film (MWKGF, 2020) at once follows and departs significantly from the Theravada and Mahayana traditions it references. MWKGF’s reconfiguring of Buddhist notions of (un)reality is especially apparent in its representation of samsara (cycle of birth and rebirth) and in its questioning of Buddhist wisdom through the lens of neuroscience, psychotherapy, and (popular versions) of quantum theory. The film further suggests that Buddhist philosophy can be effectively expounded and played, as an “executable thought experiment” in/as a video game. The article shows in conclusion that MWKGF also envisions an “ecological dharma eye manifesto” that seems to call for an epistemic-technoscientific-spiritual revolution.
An Artist in Transformation
Ari Heinrich, Livia Monnet, and Gabriel Remy-Handfield
Lu Yang (陆扬, 1984) is a critically acclaimed new media artist and rising star based in Shanghai, China, who works across film, games, performance, and installation. His work has been exhibited at numerous biennales and exhibitions in China and around the world, including the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022. He has collaborated on videos with high-profile rock bands like The 1975, and one of his videos featured in a 2020 fashion show of the Chinese sportswear company Li-Ning.1 Lu Yang has also won prestigious awards, including the BMW Art Journey Culture award in 2019, and Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year award in 2022, and the artist was anthologized in Barbara London’s critical history of video and the digital arts, Video Art: The First Fifty Years (2020), as well as in Dominique Moulon’s Chefs d’oeuvre du 21e siècle : l’art à l’ère digitale (Masterworks of the 21st Century: Art in the Digital Era, 2021). In contemporary art and popular culture, Lu Yang is clearly a force to be reckoned with.
Where is Lu Yang? Not here nor there; they might well be this new supernatural life form Maupassant could feel invading his everyday when the world became planetary, an invisible entity coming from abroad and unstoppable. Indeed, Lu Yang (LY) is unstoppable, unlocalizable, out of time and space. Planetary being? Asian superhero? Their aesthetics are avowedly Asianesque, with clear references to Japanese otaku culture, Buddhism, Chinese characters. This is 1990s techno-orientalism on speed opening onto what Livia Monnet calls a planetary unconscious.
Coercions of the Image
Jennifer Dorothy Lee
Centering a genealogy of the image 形象 (xingxiang) in China, this article opens up the task of interpreting Lu Yang’s (b.1984) works of animation and sound. To make sense of the artist’s scientized preoccupations with disease, neuroscience, and biomedical interventions into brain–body interconnections, I argue that scientific uses of technology become an artistic medium for Lu, inhabiting and encoding his work from the 2010s, in particular Cancer Baby (2014). Framing the digital animation of this piece amid the fraught intellectual history of the image—a concept that carries generations, even millennia, of debate in China—the article offers a set of clues, if not a window direct, to opening up the dynamics of consciousness, materiality, and control in the artist’s creative method.
Localizing Japanese ACG Currents in Lu Yang’s The Beast
Existing studies on Lu Yang have largely sidelined his engagement with Japanese anime, comics, and gaming (ACG) culture, despite the artist having frequently reiterated the significance of ACG to his upbringing and practice. Nor have they extensively explored what, if anything, is particularly Chinese about Lu’s work. This article argues that it is precisely Lu’s appropriation of ACG’s visual aesthetic and symbolic language that firmly positions the artist within twenty-first century Chinese youth culture. Focusing on The Beast (2012)—Lu’s tribute to the cult classic anime Neon Genesis Evangelion—I adopt an interdisciplinary approach synthesizing otaku research, fandom studies, Chinese socio-economic analyses and institutional critique to contextualize Lu’s practice within the socio-historical nexus of Sino–Japanese transcultural exchange and the global network of contemporary art.