Artist Favourites by Lu Yang
The ideas I relate to come from many fields including science, religion, psychology, neuroscience, medicine, games, music, and pop culture, and the art I like is also very varied. What an artwork carries inside itself is more important than the form it takes, and I love all forms of creation that can show how all living beings share the same problems, or give you things that you can’t find in any other place.
Oron Catts & Ionat Zurr
Reading recently about scientists who are growing meat in E Petri dishes with no real animals involved, I was reminded of a work by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr – the founders of the artistic laboratory SymbioticA – which I came across on an art website in early 2000. It was my introduction to BioArt – a form of art that really inspires me. In the piece Semi-Living Food: “Disembodied Cuisine” (2003), which they were beginning to work on at the time, they attempted to grow meat using bio-tech. This work was a groundbreaking attempt to encourage us to imagine what life would be like without killing animals. If we can’t make everyone vegetarian, can we perhaps eat meat without killing, by growing it in a lab? But – for scientists today, as well as in the piece by Catts and Zurr – the original cells still come from animals, which brings up other ethical issues that still need thinking about.
Oron Catts *1967 in Helsinki, lives in Perth / Ionat Zurr *1970 in London, lives in Perth
Guy Ben-Ary is a bio-artist affiliated with the artistic laboratory SymbioticA at the University of Western Australia in Perth. I met him when I was there on a residency in 2013, where I found the working process and everyday life so different to that of artists in China. SymbioticA is a place that makes you feel so peaceful and focused on creating; it seems so far away from the centres of contemporary art.
Bio-artists need more time, patience and technical support than other artists. But once such a work comes to us, it can sometimes touch the most secret areas of life and the universe. When I met Guy he was working on a new project that culminated in a super amazing performance, which I saw two years later: cellF (2015), in which an “external brain” communicates with a robotic body. In-Potentia (2012), made in collaboration with the artist and academic Kirsten Hudson, is a very hi- (bio-)tech and crazy work. It uses human cells, which were purchased online, reprogrammed into stem cells using genetic manipulation, and then transformed into neurons. What results is a real functioning neural network or biological brain. Amazingly, it is created from foreskin cells, which people would never have thought are related to brains. It reminds me of an idea from Buddhism: that everything is made from the same substance and only our mind wants to differentiate between forms of matter.
*1967 in Los Angeles, lives in Perth
I have often wondered what contemporary Buddhist art would look like. The first time I came across S-va-ha, I knew they were working on an answer to my question. They call themselves a “Contemporary Buddhist Art” group. The three members are all also independent artists. Two of them, Yukihisa Hirabayashi and Shugyo Kawakami, are monks. They graduated from a Buddhist school as well as from art school. In the performances they create together with the artist TETTA, they combine traditional Buddhist chanting with Japanese butoh. S-va-ha have come up with their own ceremonies that make use of electronic devices, as with their anniversary ceremonies for the bombing of Hiroshima or the Fukushima earthquake. You can feel the power of religion in their work but it is also very connected to things that are happening now.
* founded in 2012
Two years ago, Till Nowak and I were both in the “Robotic E Art” exhibition at the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie in Paris. One of the works he showed was The Centrifuge Brain Project (2011). This amazing short faux-documentary lm about physics-defying amusement park rides makes you feel that they could be real and think about what it would be like to try them out. It fills me with childlike anticipation, but still my adult brain warns me of danger. A lot of research and planning has clearly gone into building these surreal toy machines. I really like how Till has a serious and objective approach to his work but still has enough room for humour and the ridiculous.
*1980 in Bonn, lives in Los Angeles
Jakob Steensen is a young artist from Denmark. He travels a lot, and we met when he was working in Shanghai. He is interested in the links between imagination, technology, financial speculation, and ecology. His 2015 video installation A Cartography of Fantasia plays out in the aftermath of mankind. A satellite investigates the plants and wild animals living in abandoned airports and tourist resorts. Steensen is particularly interested in the relationship between humans and the natural world. I am eagerly looking forward to his next project Anxious Earth, which combines recordings of abandoned real-world locations, empty online worlds and objects, and buildings constructed for world fairs. In this way, Steensen explores past fantasies of alternative utopian futures.
*1987 in Copenhagen, lives in Copenhagen and New York
LU YANG, born 1984 in Shanghai, first reached international prominence for the video animation Uterus Man (2013), in which a womb becomes an asexual superhero who navigates through a dystopian landscape in outer space with a DNA converter and an aggressive foetus as sidekick. An interest in biology and medicine characterises Lu’s works, which address how human thought is determined by science as well as religion. Last year, Lu’s work was included in the Chinese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and she participated in “Inhuman” at the Fridericianum in Kassel as well as “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” at Yarat in Baku. She is represented by the Beijing Commune gallery and lives in Shanghai.