‘Welcome to the material world of the material world in which you are!’, beckons the protagonist of Lu Yang’s The Great Adventure of the Material World, a video game work which sees a hero, clad in an exoskeleton reminiscent of a Transformer, venturing through the ‘Material World’. Featuring tropes and characters from Lu Yang’s other works – UterusMan, the staring laser-eyed face from Power of will and the hyperactive, raving deities of Electromagnetic Brainology – Great Adventure follows the adventurer as he explores hellish vaults, vine-covered temples, and WII Resort-style landscapes. Bearing little resemblance to our actual material world, but heavily citing gaming culture and the digitised world of Lu Yang’s own creation, Great Adventure questions whether our physical world is ‘material’ to our lives anymore.
Responding to the closure of its physical gallery due to the pandemic, M WOODS gallery in Shanghai has released Art is Still Here: A Hypothetical Show for a Closed Museum. The virtual exhibition – hosted on Weibo, Facebook, and Instagram – has most recently taken the form of a virtual museum on the social simulation video game, Animal Crossing.
Each week, M WOODS generates a new ‘room’ of work. Week Three features Lu Yang’s Biological Strikeback !!! (2010). Provocative in the age of Coronavirus, the piece advertises ‘the most Powerful Energy Drink’, promising ‘Immunity From Disease’. Athletic models with blank eyes squirt the miraculous cure-all from bionic packages which resemble large ticks. Consuming the panacea contained in the parasites inverts the relationship between humans and these vampiric invertebrates.
However, the slogans which blast out in vibrant rays from the central figure – ‘REVENGE IS SWEET!’, ‘Biological Strike Back’ – might lead the consumers to question whether their own parasitism might only encourage the revenge of the creatures they use for their own benefit. Although the work was make a decade ago, it has resonance in a society which is increasingly concerned about immunity, and in which the internet whispers crazed cures for COVID-19.
Animal Crossing is an appropriate forum for Lu Yang’s work: players interact with anthropomorphic animal figures through their avatars in an open-ended play setting. It is, before anything else, a model of the consumer economy. By digitising the faux advertisement and placing Biological Strikeback !!! in a virtual museum populated by simulacra of our daily lives, M WOODS and Lu Yang query the nature of human consumption of art, objects, and advertising material.
M WOODS described the Hypothetical Exhibition as a ‘happening’, referring to theatrical events staged by artists in the early 1960s. Often taking place in the contrived environment of the gallery, happenings were based on the premise that viewer participation was central, and that art could be integrated into everyday life. The Animal Crossing aspect of the Hypothetical Exhibition best embodies this aim: the exhibition is customisable, facilitating an individualised curatorial experience.
Dance Dance LuYang Revolutionsimilarly evokes the spirit of the ‘happening’. The piece is a motion capture performance in which the user/performer is decked in motion-tracking equipment, allowing their movements to be transmuted into those of avatars ranging from K-Pop boy band members, to technologically charged, neon covered gods. The frenetic energy of the performer and the accompanying animations mirror the incongruity between our oft-banal physical lives and our overstimulated online lives.
Such a comparison becomes doubly meaningful considering the lifestyle changes imposed by COVID-19. The role of technology has been enhanced – online interaction has been seen as the solution to social isolation. It is up to the individual to decide whether these digitised interactions are just as meaningful as communication in person.
Likewise, while virtual exhibitions such as the Hypothetical Exhibition are a boon in a period of gallery closure, the impossibility of visiting physical galleries prompts us to wonder whether some works are better suited to online viewing. Perhaps for Lu Yang’s creations the answer will be digital viewing, seeing as she interrogates so thoroughly the question of whether, considering our increasingly digital experience, physical art experiences remain essential.
Lu Yang (@luyangasia) (b. 1984, Shanghai) works across a variety of media including performance, video, 3D animated works, holograms, VR and software manipulation. She completed a BA and MA at the New Media Art department of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. Lu Yang is represented by ART LABOR (@artlabor) gallery in Shanghai.
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