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Lu Yang: Anatomy of the Idols

“Science is a differential equation. Religion is a boundary condition.” –Alan Turing

When Walter Benjamin wrote about the aura of the work of art, he most certainly didn’t mean that it could be a physical, detachable thing, but of elusive nature, like divinity. For Beijing-based artist Lu Yang, however, deification can be a matter of prosthetic halos, portable mandorlas, and strap-on limbs that affix divine power to mortal flesh as conveniently as turning on the wifi. Recognizing that the effulgence surrounding religious figures has persevered as a universally recognized symbol of divine power—despite the obscurity of more complex religious iconography in contemporary times, Lu Yang’s Moving Gods (2015) speculates how idol-making and worship might still operate in today’s public life, visual culture, and our evolving relationship—collective and personal—with the gods, as human beings push towards new transformative thresholds.

As a special commission for the Chinese Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale, Moving Gods clashes meaningfully with a city studded with its own wealth of religious icons and dramatic luminosity, rendered by the likes of Tintoretto. There’s something fundamentally iconoclastic in Lu Yang’s deconstruction of the divine whole, where the emblem of enlightenment is treated as something surgically removable—thus external to the icon and the deity—or commercially viable like armored suits for super heroes. Presenting an eclectic sampling of nimbus, aureola, flaming halo, and wheal of law from the often inter-connected visual traditions of Christianity, Hinduism, Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet and Japan (particularly Shingon), Lu Yang has essentially designed a ready-to-wear collection fabricated with camphor wood, gold foil, and richly patterned straps with buckles. Ironically, this is also an act of true devotion, because the replication of idols—however unconventionally done—is as reverent as it gets.

Playing off the sumptuous detailing of foliage scrolls and burning flames are the ripped bodies of Lu Yang’s ethnically-diverse models, locally sourced from Beijing’s expat community. In a video that oscillates between museum-display gravitas and psychedelic mandalas, the models’ distinct physiognomy and hair-style seem apropos of the tradition where representations of deities often reflect local tastes and appearances, but the real, flawed bodies undermine religious art’s claim to purification through idealized form. Whether a type-cast guardian, Jesus look-alike wearing Tantric symbols, or black DJ with wild braids incarnating Shiva, the actors perform identities as much as their malleability, weaving together an anachronistic tableaux of meta-religiosity that feels squarely planted in the contemporary world of altered and altering appearances. Before we become cyborgs, we are icono-clad sign-borgs. But what are we to make of Lu Yang’s creatures from a biological or theological perspective? How does the strife of beliefs triangulate our largely-secularized ways of living today? What wisdom do our saviors, teachers, creators, and destroyers impart regarding navigation along the time-space continuum, in life and after-life?

There is a provocative sense of ownership in Lu Yang’s practice to fundamental, even cosmic questions, paired with a post-internet approach to imagery and knowledge characteristic of her generation. In an important early work, Wrathful King Kong Core (2011), Lu Yang creates a virtual objectification of Yamantaka, wrathful manifestation of the bodhisattva Manjusri. Constructed with UV mapping, X-rays effects, and flickering drop-down menus redolent of video game archetypes, the deity spins and heaves in the unique kinetics of virtual reality. After a detailed analysis of devotional objects held in Yamantaka’s multiple hands, Lu Yang seamlessly proceeds to reveal the neurological circuit that contributes to the deity’s benevolent yet ferocious nature—a deadpan superimposition of divinity and humanity. In a 2014 spin-off of the same series, the Wrathful King Kong Core pops onto a lotus pedestal, out of thin air, in our physical world, provided that you observe through an ipad screen calibrated with an “augmented reality” camera. The technology has already saturated commercial advertising, but Lu Yang’s explicit deployment of its gadgetry provides an astonishingly accurate analogy of enlightenment, which is often measured by the ability to perceive divine presence, yet the effortlessness might also speak wryly to a post-capitalist urge for instant salvation. In a world where many still cling to the belief that science and religion point to different paths of enlightenment, Lu Yang works with a third path—as an unlikely devout to spiritualization and unapologetic evangelist for scientific imagination—by short-circuiting that very dichotomy.

陆扬:解剖偶像

文/王辛

“科学是一种微分方程;宗教是一组边界条件。”—阿兰·图灵

本雅明在探讨艺术作品的“灵韵”时,必然没有将其视为一种可拆卸的物,而是像神性一样难以捉摸。然而在陆扬的新作《移动神佛》中,人神之间的区隔通过人造光圈、便携式圣光、可穿戴的佛臂便可弥补,将神的大威力赋予血肉之躯可以像开关无线网般轻而易举。艺术家敏锐地意识到,即便更为复杂的造像图像研究已在当代变得式微,环绕神祗、圣人的光晕依然是普世认可的一种神性的象征。基于此,《移动神佛》对由古至今的偶像制造与崇拜行为提出新的论想,不论在公共生活、视觉文化、还是人神之间不断演变的关系之中,尤其在人类社会自身不断推向新的演化可能的时代。

作为2015年威尼斯双年展中国馆的委任创作,《移动神佛》与本地独特的宗教美术史—例如丁托列托等人所绘制的圣人与光晕—发生着有意义的撞击。陆扬的创作中有种偶像破坏(iconoclast)的本质,因为她将完整的神性中象征智慧启蒙的部分视为外在于神祗的、可移除的部件,或者像超级英雄铠甲那样可以被定制生产。通过广泛参考基督教、印度教、西藏密宗、真言宗等历史上融汇交织的造像传统,艺术家将头光、全身光、火圈、輪宝等元素打造成由樟木制作、彩绘金箔装饰的“成衣”系列,并配有穿戴时起固定作用的花纹缎带与带扣。值得玩味的是,这同时也是一种极为虔诚的创作,因为偶像复制最能反映虔心,不论复制的方式如何荒诞不经。

与精致草叶与火焰纹样相映的是模特们健硕的肢体。这些演员由陆扬就地取材,选自北京庞大的外来国籍、族裔群体。在《移动神佛》的影像作品中,不论是本色出演的不动明王、背负真言宗圣光的基督形象,或是脏鞭DJ演绎的纳塔罗阇湿,演员大多维持本身独特的相貌与发型。某种意义上来说,这与宗教造像往往反映不同地域面貌与时代审美的传统相符,但同时这些过于真实而不完美的肉身也颠覆着宗教艺术通过理想化造型喻指精神净化超脱的本意。影像在博物馆陈设般的庄严凝滞与绮丽迷幻的曼陀罗之间往复,呈现出一种时空混淆、超越神祗崇拜的景观,而这种景观又切切实实地属于面貌善变、易变的当今世界。在成为半机械人之前,我们首先将偶像符号周身披挂。但如何从生物学或神学的角度去理解陆扬所塑造出的这些形象呢?以信仰而起的冲突如何将我们普遍世俗化的生活方式重新定位?这些救赎者、导师、造物主与世界的毁灭者们又能如何指引我们在时空连续体之中航行,不论是此生还是来世?

陆扬在创作中从不回避基本性的、甚至宇宙级的宏大议题,又兼有她这代人对图像和知识的后网络式吸纳与运用。在其早期重要作品《忿怒金刚核》(2011)中,文殊菩萨的忿怒相—大威德金刚成为由UV空间贴图绘制的虚拟偶像,旋转翕动之间带有数码图像特有的动态感,并配有X光扫描效果以及取自电脑游戏中的闪动信息框。在介绍完金刚手执的各类法器之后,陆扬顺理成章地演绎起其体内的神经回路,以解释神明忿怒与慈悲的生理机制,将神性与人性大胆叠加。2014年这件作品有了后续:忿怒金刚可以在物理空间的莲座上突然跃现—前提是观众将装有“扩增现实”插件的iPad对准莲座中央被编码的图像。这项技术早已广泛运用于商业广告,但陆扬对这一技术“小伎俩”似的利用却精准地模拟了开悟的本质—即亲眼见到神迹;而观测实现地如此轻易便捷,又深刻暗讽着后资本时代对即时拯救的切实需求。在一个大多数人依然相信科学与宗教指向不同拯救、启蒙之路的时代,陆扬选取了第三种路径:令这种二元对立短路—保有对信仰体系的虔信,又执迷不悟地开动科学想象。

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