A rising star of the Chinese art scene, Lu Yang participated in the Chinese Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale. She studied under Chinese video and new media art pioneer Zhang Peili at the China Academy of Fine Art, a man she described as a very good teacher, “He just let his students do everything they want, and gives them a lot of confidence.”
In fact, Zhang Peili picked Lu Yang out of her cohort and mentored her because he saw in her something different, an originality totally at odds with his own work. “Of course in China in the traditional way, the student’s work is very alike their teacher’s work in lots of cases,” she says to me when we meet. “But Zhang Peili didn’t teach us like that.”
Discovered by Art Labor, Lu Yang exhibited Hell in 2010 before working with Zhang Peili again in 2011 on The Anatomy of Rage (Wrathful King Kong Cole). Currently, she is signed to Beijing Commune in Beijing.
Lu Yang is very welcoming when I go to visit her at her studio in the Hongkou district of Shanghai. The studio is sparse, she only moved in a few weeks earlier, and even then she’s not been around much as she was travelling for work. She introduces me to her new pug Biabia, an adorable little creature.
We start off by talking about the themes of her work. I ask why her art is so dark? “I think it’s not the point about being dark, I think the darkness is just the surface of my work, but actually there’s more deep meaning I want to develop, some very detailed things. Of course, I will always still focus on brain science. And also how the brain is related to religion.”
Something that strikes you about Lu Yang’s work is that it touches on themes that don’t come up that much in contemporary art, certainly not in China anyway. In fact, her work is highly original, her formative years watching Japanese pop culture clearly visible in her work. But really who are her artistic influences? “I think the most influential work for me is not art. I’m not really interested in art,” she says. “Actually I don’t like art.”
But where do her crazy ideas such as Uterus Man, a genderless superhero who rides a maxi pad skateboard, and walks a newborn baby on a leash that is an umbilical cord, come from? “Actually, I like some bio artists like Sterlarc, who put the mouse ear on his arm. Sterlarc is one of my favourites.” This underlines why Lu Yang has built a reputation as an artist to keep an eye on.
When she was still in college she produced a set of brilliant and extremely detailed diagrams of concepts she wanted to make but wasn’t able to because she didn’t have the money. “I really want to learn because I don’t want to make boring things, and with the money you have, you can only make shit. So I wanted to make those kinds of things, so I just have the idea to draw it as a diagram, and with that kind of diagram can make everyone see it and they can follow the step by step and set up their own installations.”
In fact, one of the diagrams, Zombie Music Box, was actually realised, amid some criticism from various people. They questioned the ethics of using dissected frogs legs attached to electrodes, that was then programmed to ‘dance’ using a music box. Whatever your thoughts from an ethical point of view, the fact is the idea was highly original and Lu Yang was eventually able to produce the ideas in her head to real life.
“Guy Ben-Ary is another artist whose work is very, very fun. He used stems cells, the penis skin cell, and transferred it into a stem cell and then changed the stem cell into the brain cell, the neuron cell. It’s really like the penis can think. He’s doing that kind of work.” Some people would say that’s how guys think anyway, I counter, with their penis. “He just made a real version,” she muses.
Lu Yang certainly falls into the category of art called New Media. Does she agree? “I think the media gives me all the labels. What kind of media they are, maybe they are new media, or if they are doing more fine arts they will think that I’m an animator, or some people think I’m a new media artist, and I think those kind of things are always not so much fun.” But you have to fit into some category, right? “Whatever I’m an artist, or creator or just a human,” she responds with a typically forthright answer.