Lu Yang: NetiNeti Is an Art Show Inspired by Games, Asking Important Questions

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A solo exhibition by Chinese multimedia artist Lu Yang, combining a collage of games, anime, fan culture, Internet identity and serious existential difficulties, will be open in the Zabludovich Collection for another month against the backdrop of what the gallery calls “phenomenal” demand. .

Featuring its own retro-inspired arcade game, partly inspired by the iconic Soho arcade in Las Vegas, as well as the gaming destinations of Luyang’s hometown of Shanghai, the heart of NetiNeti revolves around six different DOKU avatars. Each of them is a continuation of the artist. In addition to participating in various films related to the show, where they indifferently dance to plastic heavy metal and perverted ambient music, these figures also appear as playable characters in a series of games that travel deep into surreal, imaginary worlds, exploring the issues of life. , death and mortality. Halfway through Material World Night (2018)— a nine—level action video game set in a future ruled by robots with artificial intelligence, clones and cyborgs with sturdy exoskeletons-I am stopped by a strange clumsy figure in the middle of a shimmering, checkered forest. “If we knew when we were going to die, we could spend our lives in fear,” the creature tells my knight errant. “The infinity of death gives us the illusion that we will live forever.”

At the other end of the room, a fun-looking retro kiosk — not unlike an arcade shooting game like Space Invaders—invites visitors to turn malignant cancer cells into cute anthropomorphic spots. “Super super fast!” rainbow cartoons sing in ominous unison. — You’ll never notice it! Nearby, a pair of arcade superbikes “Fast and Furious” turned into pelvic chariots. Playing as the sex-changing superhero Uterus Man, players remove pairs of chromosomes and approach the space race track. In addition to playfulness and compulsiveness, games explore all kinds of philosophical questions and are interested in distorting the usual views on life and death.

“It definitely has to be a playful, collaborative, fun experience,” explains Paul Luckcraft, senior curator of the Zabludovich collection. “We had a lot of visitors who didn’t necessarily know they had come to see an art exhibition. It’s more about coming for impressions, or coming to play a game, or for a Dance Revolution arcade machine.”

“Luyang is always trying to achieve an additional level of interaction,” adds curator Julia Greenway.

While the history of art is usually full of unique, brilliant personalities who focus on every masterpiece they create, Lu Yang prefers to avoid details when it comes to questions of their own biography. Instead, Greenway explains, they are more interested in matching “their digital identity and their personal identity.” Just as players use contradictory characters and avatars when they play the game — say, the opposing viewpoints of Ellie and Abby from The Last of Us or the ever—changing goals and motives of the protagonist in Assassin’s Creed – six different avatars of LuYang allow you to reveal different points of view and possibilities.

“I see the relationship between [avatars] DOKU and me as akin to the relationship between the soul and its mortal shell, like something who dies standing in a strange but familiar way next to his dead body and looking at it,” Luyang previously said in an interview for his Berlin exhibition DOKU Experience Center. “When I realized that DOKU is a shell, I used this shell to express my thoughts. And I can control the shell using motion data received from other places.” Each avatar is created by capturing LuYan’s own likeness and movements— and, like an AI pop star or a virtual icon, becomes a kind of extension of the physical body. “The face of all the avatars for the DOKU series is LuYan’s own face,” says Lacraft. “This is their image, scanned and mapped, and then combined with data taken from other human bodies and capturing the dancers’ movements.”

This particular aspect of the exhibition was partly shaped by Lu Yang’s flight during the pandemic outbreak. When a thunderstorm quickly enveloped the plane, illuminating the city below with rapid flashes of white light, the artist experienced what they now call “ecstasy” in the midst of what looked like a near-death experience.

“The main driving force behind their practice was the idea of escaping or trying to find an alternative life for themselves in different habitats, different avatars and different versions of themselves can exist in the digital space at different times,” says Lacraft. “The basic concept of the show, Neti Neti, is a Sanskrit phrase meaning neither this nor that. This is the idea of trying to suggest that, perhaps, instead of thinking binary opposites, Lu Yang is more interested in finding the middle way and, as it were, in not falling into the trap of binary thinking. This is their basic conceptual basis, and in the series it manifests itself in a variety of ways. This is also consistent with their very sincere interest and study of Buddhism and Buddhist teachings. Their work is a way to process, deal with and understand… they grasp what you can learn from these teachings.”

Bringing these complex ideas to life in the unusual surroundings of the Zabludovich Collection—a former Methodist church—was a daunting task, but the sacred surroundings strangely end up seeming perfect. Instead of religious figures who usually decorate stained glass windows, the central element of the main space of the Collection, right above the deserted altar, is a digital screen with images of six avatars of DOKU LuYan.

For Greenway, the process of finding a pair of original arcade motorcycles and turning them into LuYan’s “Womb Man” game-based on their brilliantly bizarre 2013 video about a superhero equipped with an umbilical cord whip and “animal mode”—”is probably the best thing that has ever happened in my career,” she laughs. “It feels like a perfect union… it’s always been a joystick game before, and adapting it to this console has been really awesome.”

Lacraft, meanwhile, singles out “The Great Adventure of the Material World” as a favorite work, which also offers many other possibilities. “You can imagine it’s turned into a much more complete world,” he says. “It includes so many different levels, and you encounter the previous characters that Lu Yang created; you encounter the Womb Man and scenes from Delusional Crime and Punishment [2016], you encounter the simpering world of DOKU representing Heaven. All this can spill out. The whole quest requires you to give up material thinking, and eventually you float off into space with all this garbage and stuff floating by. There is a desire to somehow escape from our reality, and perhaps then it will be possible to reach another reality.”

Behind us, a group of visitors are clumsily fighting in the game Luyang’s Dance Revolution, laughing their heads off, and bright music is coming from the adapted arcade console. Neti Neti certainly raises serious questions about mortality, but also rejects binary ideas and establishes a way of thinking in a playful, often absurd manner. You have to admit that thinking about the meaning of life rarely gives so much pleasure.

Luyang: Neti Neti is in the Zabludovich collection until March 23, 2023.

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