by Alice Gee 爱丽丝·吉
Lu Yang ‘Debut’
BANK (Building 2, Lane 298 Anfu Road, Xuhui District,) November 9, 2019–January 12, 2020
Lu Yang’s ‘debut’ and Chen Tianzhou’s ‘Backstage Boys’ at BANK stimulate the senses to the point of overload. The gallery is a kitsch carnival where, for instance, the rock star Marilyn Manson is depicted as an ‘enchanting, vicious snake demon’ who resists the fiery attack launched by the Cabalesh Brothers (1980’s Chinese cartoon characters) and the pug running about the room is magnified into a four eyed deity and given heart-gem nipples.
A hypnotic dance track fills the room. The noise is coming from a box TV in a stand encrusted with plastic gems and painted gold. The gold paint flicks onto the tiled floor in slapdash strokes. Inside the box a man performs a tribal dance. The video could be a 1960s documentary film, but then the bangs of his drum are absorbed by a dance beat and the scene erupts into a frenzy of color and fire.
This is a taste of what Lu Yang is primarily known for: outlandish video productions. But we are here to see Lu’s ‘debut’ of paintings. Framed in gaudy gold, we find acrylic paintings of Lu deified and reincarnated as ‘Acala’ (who decapitates muscular young men), the Anime character ‘Pipimi’ (who tortures more beautiful men) and ‘Kaiju’ (who, of course, forms an alliance with Godzilla).
It seemed eerily apt that Lu was held up and Lu Yang the mortal would remain unknown. Instead, I emailed Lu some questions, and Lu responded generously.
Why did you choose the medium of painting for these works?
This year, I made a new work, a video game, and it took a lot of energy and physical strength to execute the work. For half a year, I worked on it for more than 14 hours a day, day and night without interruption. The huge workload left me with a tremendous anxiety to sit in front of the computer and sapped the joy of making art works. So, I decided to try to work through painting to relieve the anxiety and the pain from overworking.
Although I have been working with multimedia for many years, I have drawn since I was a child. After graduation from the Middle School of the Shanghai Art University, I was admitted to the Department of Fine Arts at Nanshan Road, China Academy of Fine Arts. That said, I still possess some basic painting skills. When I picked up the paintbrush again and started painting, it felt like heaven compared to the intensive work with the computer, I feel like I’m on holiday every day. I find my painter self to be so relaxed, happy and comfortable. I really envy the painters!
What can you achieve on canvas that you can’t on video?
If there’s something that can’t be realized in my video works but is achieved through the means of painting, I’d say it’s the pleasure of the body and the spirit, and this pleasure goes from the conception, to the painting process, to the exhibition. It’s very relaxed and pleasant. It’s like a very important holiday.
Mathieu’s BANK Gallery offered me an opportunity to showcase my paintings. The name of the exhibition is “debut”, which means I want to make my second debut as a painter. If I could, I would like to hold an exhibition every year!
You take very violent and disturbing subjects and subvert them in playful and exuberant images. Can you talk to me about the idea of ‘spectacle’ and ‘sacrifice’ in your work or modern society in general?
Although painting is the medium of this exhibition, the thinking behind it is the same as my works in other mediums. The content of the work is a mixture of all the themes I care about and issues that interest me. Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by taboo and the bloody themes of violence and death while also being enamored by the lovely, dreamlike and fantastical. Although I am more convinced by the philosophy of non-binary opposition, my hobbies seem very extreme to others. It’s hard to make legible the specific connection these works have with society, and I don’t think ‘society’ is the ‘reality’. In any corner of the globe, the whole universe may just be an illusion. Rather, my painting is closer to the catharsis of my personal hobbies, a combination of the bloody violence and extremely abnormal loveliness. Those blood drops, skeletons, innards, and evil smiling faces, they all make me feel satisfied and happy!
Cross-culturally, art began as a means to connect with a higher, spiritual realm. Now, art struggles for a purpose/ or against purpose in a more secular world. Why do ancient myths and religions appeal to you and what relevance do they have in a digital, commercial world?
If you look far away in time, say hundreds or even thousands of years are just a glimpse in the infinite universe — that’s why I don’t like to divide time into categories like ancient, historical, modern, or future. Maybe in the eyes of intelligent life forms of some other planets, our era is in the same duration of another cultural history of thousands of years. The influence of the so-called “ancient religious history” continues to interest me. These sources of wisdom are not limited by timelines constructed by human beings. Being later or newer does not necessarily mean better or more advanced. Material advancements can easily be destroyed in the universe and nature, and our brainpower and wisdom may be far inferior to those who lived thousands of years ago. I want to think about everything in a broader perspective. I want to try and break all these labels with reference to time and space in my works.
Each painting is a busy collision of ideas, cultural allusions, and colors. How do you choose what to put together?
I like all cultures; and so based on what I like, I then create my own world. If I don’t set boundaries for cultures in my heart, I am free to understand and love them. For example, I like the traditional religion of Southeast Asian culture, some Western psychological ideas, and I also like animation culture, games and virtual idols. I am extremely fond of Rock and Roll as well as ACG music. There are no boundaries in my eyes, which to others is an extreme idea.
Do you ever worry about cultural appropriation or being insensitive about sacred subjects?
I do have some taboos, some contents and subjects I dare not go into, because I am too in awe of their wisdom, but I can’t help contacting and recreating some interesting cultures beyond my own. I’ve found an excuse for myself: all comes from the mind, so they should not be colored and categorized. One ends up being haunted by things if one comes up with categories by observing things by their color, sound, fragrance, and touch.
You take on many different personalities in your work, like avatars of different video games. Is your art a form of ‘escapism’ from the real world?
You can say it’s a form of “escapism”, can’t you? When I create a work, I am constructing my own world. I am very happy to immerse myself in this world, just like I usually am to stay at home and indulge myself in the environment where my body feels very safe, and my brain can go wild. I can abandon all identity labels, forget about age or gender, forget that I have a body fixed on the earth, even forget that I am a person altogether. That’s nice to say, but many people are in fact just serious “otakus”. The otaku in the traditional sense is someone who immerses himself in the world created by others, such as animations, games, books, etc., while I may be an otaku who likes the world created by others but prefers to create their own world.
What’s next for you creatively?
Soon I will be working on the “BMW Art journey” project this year, for which I will travel around Asia. The continent of Asia is my biggest inspiration!
Alice Gee is a writer. After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in English, Alice moved to Taicang, a city just north of Shanghai, where she writes and teaches part-time.