The wildly fantastical Lu Yang Arcade and Lu Yang Video Room surveys works from Shanghai-based artist Lu Yang (陸揚 / 陆扬) that imagine a sci-fi world where man has mastered the biological, mechanical, and even the supernatural. Themes of physiology, disease, technology, bioethics, and religion crossover and unify various works and media. Both present selected videos from the past few years, but with the addition of a number of physical objects, Arcade is more expansive of the two. I visited Arcade twice and was completely captivated both times by how weird and amazing it is.
Uterus Man features a character inspired by the idea that a caped person with outstretched arms resembles a uterus and fallopian tubes. Illustrated and animated in a seinan manga style, he appears in several posters and manga by HHUUAAZZII, is the hero of a video game that is actually playable, and is thoroughly introduced in a video that is accompanied by driving soundtrack by Squareloud. Uterus Man challenges concepts and limitations of biology. With mechanical vehicle made of bones called the Pelvis Chariot (盆骨戰車 / 盆骨战车) and powers and weapons that include the Ovum Light Wave Attack (卵子光波攻擊 / 卵子光波攻击), Blood Energy Altitude Flying (血能飛行 / 血能飞行), and the Baby Weapon (嬰兒系武器 / 婴儿系武器) (a cross between a leashed mad dog and flail whose ball is an actual baby and chain is an umbilical cord), there is no distinction between the organic and inorganic in this universe, and man does as he needs and pleases with living tissue. It seems completely unreal until we see x-rays of the Pelvis Chariot on actual x-ray films on lightboxes and photographs of Uterus Man played by Japanese cosplay artist Yuma Hamasaqi who in an act of control over biology surgically transformed himself into a genderless person through the removal of his nipples and sexual organs. Of course, there’s no Pelvis Chariot or Uterus Man (that we know of), but the purported reality of the images grounds them into the realm of possibility.
When you can control living tissue, what becomes of disease and death? Cancer Baby recontextualizes the dreaded disease with uncanny representations. A display case presents a collection of colorful 3D-printed rings and bracelets shaped like cancerous growths. Regular lattices of inorganic compounds of semi-precious and precious stones are replaced with regular long chains of organic polymers representing irregular organic frameworks. They are cleverly placed in stainless petri dishes, a steel kidney tray, or cushioned by cotton or gauze to further the idea of excised tissue and lab cultures. Twisting the idea that beating cancer is a badge of courage, cancer has become an enviable optional accessory.
Another part of Cancer Baby anthropomorphizes cancer cells by re-imagining them as kawaii cartoon characters. Singing in Engrish, “We glow up very fast!” in a children’s music video and pleading “Please don’t kill us!” in a Galaxian-inspired poster (incidentally, the inner part of the hanzi for “cancer”, 癌, looks a little like the game) that could be a recruitment ad for cancer researchers, cartoon cancer would be lovable if it wasn’t, you know, cancer. Like the “Dear Cancer” campaign, Lu brings attention to cancer and takes the fear out it.
While Uterus Man could be dismissed as bizarre but harmless, the idea of cancer as jewelry and sing-along kawaii characters might hit too close to home for many people. Curator Xin Wang notes that the dramatically increased rate of cancer in China made Cancer Baby particularly controversial when it was shown in Shanghai. As more people unfortunately are afflicted with cancer, works like this that combats the negativity associated with the disease may help individuals and society cope.
Upstairs, in a generally closed part of the exhibition that looks like an abandoned laboratory (it’s being prepared for the next show, but I asked one of the friendly (blank) baristas if I could go up…you should too and also definitely have some great coffee when you visit the exhibition), Lu Yang’s agnostic biology is seen in scientific posters that, among other things, outline how to make human forearms into components for claw machines and rock-paper-scissors machines and how to make decapitated frogs dance. In Zomie Music Box–Underwater Frog Leg Ballet, Lu actually did make dead frogs move. It’s not just a far-fetched art concept like Uterus Man. It’s based on the work of 18th century biologist Luigi Galvani whose electrical stimulation of the muscles of dead frogs pioneered the field of bioelectricity and the study of the nervous system. Reducing living creatures and their body parts to mechanical parts may seem unreal, terrifying, and cruel. What are the limits to creating manmade realities?
Is it religion that defines ethics and sets these limits? In the universe of Lu Yang Arcade, Uterus Man, whose name touches on the idea of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, replaces the Christian savior on the cross and in a print modeled after Christian iconography. This biological wonder is a god. The Buddhism-inspired deity of Wrathful KingKong Core is summoned and visible through use of a technological device, an iPad mini. He seems small and contained, like an insect in a jar. The scroll above the altar shows him as a 3D line rendering – a mere model. His weapons are listed in a computer animation, as if they were a list selectable features offered when building a video game character or purchasing a car. Man designed and controls the supernatural in Wrathful KingKong Core, but depending on your personal belief system, it’s the case in real life too. Maybe, again, Lu Yang’s world isn’t so far-fetched.
Thanks to the works themselves and Wang’s curation, Arcade is lively, fun, and filled with things that draw your attention. In particular, the loud, sometimes indistinct, and sometimes random music and sound from the videos made me feel like I were actually at an arcade. Like any good sci-fi story, behind the initial presentation lies a really smart examination of humanity and its capability and possibility.
Lu Yang Arcade continues through Monday, November 10 at Wallplay. Lu Yang Video Room shows six videos, including the two above but also from other works not discussed, and may include selected pieces from Lu Yang Arcade when that show closes.
Lu Yang Arcade
8 AM – 8 PM through Monday, November 10
Wallplay, 118 Orchard Street
Lu Yang Video Room
Viewing hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday 1–6PM through Sunday, November 23
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