Lu Yang is one of the world’s leading figures in contemporary digital art. Her furiously idiosyncratic and sublimely twisted visions consider everything from pleasure and pain, to science and religion.
The power of Yang’s work is immense. She synthesises complicated notions of technology, gender, illness, religion, suffering, death and the human machine into fiercely intellectual and subsuming work. Her wild, dizzying digital imagery and musical pairings are both chaotic and neurotically systematic, spanning multiple mediums including video, installation, performance and new media such as VR and video games. Drenched in visual influences, from Manga and Anime, gaming and hacking subcultures to religious iconography, the work is dark, satirical, and viscerally moving. Although Yang’s work resists any given group or static identity, it is without doubt framed by the movements of Afrofuturism and Asiafuturism. Like her predecessors, she uses the limitless power of fantasy, science fiction and, above all, her intoxicating imagination to re-envision the world in its paradoxical and unnerving glory.
Yang is unafraid to ask big questions that are often left to religion, science and philosophy: Why do we suffer? How are we created? Do we have free will? In 2017, her five-channel video installation, Electromagnetic Brainology, was exhibited at M Woods Museum in Beijing. The installation, an assault of overloaded colour yet streamlined composition, combined the spirituality of religion with the physicality of science. The high-ceilinged, curved room had the celestial impact of a temple, saturated in electric green light. A large central screen was surrounded by two smaller screens on each side, as well as a circular stage in the middle of the room, neon lights, and enormous fabric hangings reminiscent of both Communist and Facist banners and also traditional forms of Chinese tapestry. With no linear message or narrative, the content of the video unpacked the human condition to a molecular level, questioning the dualism of spirit and body, and forcing the traditionally incompatible to align.
Pleasure, pain, life, and death are symbiotic in Yang’s work. Drawing from Buddhist teachings, Yang delves into the infinite contradictions of the world and begins to untangle how they co-exist. Her films flit hyperactively between macabre images of suffering: flocks of writhing impaled bodies, dismembered limbs, cancer cells, napalm, and the mushroom cloud. Along with the brutal soundtracks that pound aggressively to the rhythm of vicious images, the poetic form and remarkable skill of Yang’s work is as enticing and entertaining as it is unsettling — a catharsis that marries both violence and kindness, fear and elation. Cruelly disorientating, savage yet irresistibly seductive, Yang’s practice is set to be one that the history of art profoundly remembers.