The Shanghai-based artist LuYang explores perfect brains, death, and multimedia funeral hearses in 'Delusional Mandala.'
How do you pack “nonsexual” humanity into topics such as deep brain stimulation, anatomy, death, religion and symbols? If you’re Shanghai-based new media art LuYang, and you’ve already 3D-printed “cancer jewelry” and named an illustrated superhero “Uterus Man,” you can probably tie it all together into a more or less coherent whole.
LuYang’s latest work, the video Delusional Mandala, is an effort to explore consciousness via science and religion, through the lens of technology (namely, 3D animation). It’s a deeply strange and mesmerising video, which involved 3D scanning technology and extensive software manipulation of the visuals to create a piece that’s a bit like an imaginary hybrid anatomy-neuroscience-religion lesson on acid.
Why did LuYang use a digital nonsexual human simulation for her avatar? She says that it was about creating the perfect body that she wants but cannot have in real life.
“I want to just be a human being, no gender, because we all can’t choose our gender when we come to this world,” she says. “It’s weird to separate everything by so many labels.”
LuYang’s hyperreal colors are all there, but she jettisons her usual anime and manga visual flavorings. It plays instead like a late night infomercial from future China, with LuYang’s virtual simulacra being created, distorted and made to do funny dances and otherwise writhe and contort to various stimuli, including Chinese electro-pop music. It may look like a Chinese artist’s LaTurbo Avedon, but as if she were more influenced by Chris Cunningham circa the Aphex Twin-soundtracked Rubber Johnny short film than any new media art pretensions. But, as hinted at above, Delusional Mandala is all about the ideas behind the visuals.
“I am always interested in brain science and religion, like one of my other works such as wrathful king king core, which I made in 2011,” LuYang tells The Creators Project. “It makes me consider where the consciousness is, what controls our body. So, in my new piece I combine brain science and religion to think about the same thing in both ways.”
LuYang says that Delusional Mandala includes many elements within brain science: deep brain stimulation; the limbic system, a brain network controlling instincts and moods such as fear, pleasure, sex and dominance; and transmagnetic stimulation, a procedure that the Mayo Clinic describes as “stimulat[ing] nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression.” On top of all of this, LuYang explores brain death from a scientific perspective. The video’s religious aspects appear as symbols from Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon Buddhism, Christianity, Thailand's "tame head" black magic, and Patikulamanasikara, amongst others.
This collision of various brain sciences and religious input may explain why LuYang’s nonsexual avatar looks to be going haywire throughout the video. Too much input or information overload, if you will. Under such forces, what else could a being do but go delusional and writhe—or dance? As LuYang, referencing Buddhism, says, “All consciousness is delusion.”
Delusional Mandala is also, LuYang explains, about controlling the physical mind and stimulating it into a more “perfect brain.” In the video, LuYang imagined many—instead of just one—deep brain stimulation guide tubes and needles used to alter the brain. To her, the results resemble “holy light” and “other religious nimbuses” (halos or luminous clouds), and should make viewers wonder if the difference between being a human or a god already exists in our brains. Apart from that, LuYang says the video should also get viewers asking other questions that will make them think about how delusional life is.
And what of LuYang’s thoughts on death? In Delusional Mandala, she imagines she has died, and how “ugly and disgusting” her body’s organs become. She does this by showing her avatar’s head floating with the decaying organs attached.
“It’s all about if the consciousness is physical and a part of our physical body, [then] how could it be destroyed?” LuYang says. “Then, after death, I imagine how my funeral would be. It comes in a multimedia hearse, and you can put your death portrait as a moving animation with some text looping on it.”
“The text which I’ve put on it is a sutra from Dharmapadavadana,” she adds. “I put it all in Chinese as visual thinking but here I can explain in English: ‘What has been accumulated will be exhausted, What has been high will be brought low, What has been gathered will be dispersed, What has been built up will collapse, And What is born will die.’”
LuYang says that Delusional Mandala is part of a larger long-term project that deals with science, technology and religion. The first work, Moving God, is currently showing at the Venice Biennale. The second piece is Delusional Mandala, with related works currently in progress.
Click here to see more of LuTang’s work.