Société Berlin is pleased to present ‘‘Cyber Altar’’, a solo exhibition of the artist Lu Yang at Art Basel Hong Kong. Lu Yang’s work delves into the relationship between technology and religion, though these fields overlap without any pretense of binary opposition—religion is not always blindly superstitious and technology is not necessarily the pinnacle of scientific thought. The work ‘‘Electromagnetic Brainology’’ gets its pulse from the Buddhist and Hindu conception of the four great elements—Earth, Water, Fire and Air—corresponding to the four great pains in the brain’s neurological system. The artist thus creates four deities armed with modern medical techniques and equipment intending to dissolve the overarching sources of human suffering. These elements constitute our human bodies and the great pains of earth, water, fire and air become the slings and arrows, reflecting the difficulties that all people experience in their lives. The four decompositions discussed in Buddhism are a series of processes that ultimately lead to the death of our human flesh.
The artist incorporates her own image and form into the artwork without fear or hesitation, having a representation of her body inserted slowly into a coffin before being loaded headlong into an intricate, yet kitsch version of a traditional Chinese, ornament-laden funeral car. Since death is such a profoundly sensitive and fear-inducing taboo, particularly in societies with roots in Chinese culture, the artist has no choice but to incarnate herself in the leading role of the piece. Though images of Lu Yang’s own form are peppered throughout most of her works, her self-image should not be seen as a manifestation of the artist’s narcissism, but rather as a liberating exorcism ritual, an expulsion of immobilizing demons.
At this year’s Art Basel Hong Kong, Lu Yang creates a modern shrine in which the deities being worshipped have no material form, but are instead reincarnated as flashy, multicolored moving images to surround the shrine. As you enter into the shrine, you are besieged by imposing figures—the deities of earth, water, fire and air spread throughout the space. The four great elements in Buddhism—earth, water, fire and air—are also four important components of the human body. In the past, deities had no face or physical form, appearing only in oral histories and myths until ambitious humans gave them visual forms in religious paintings and sculptures; such visual representations served to disseminate and propagate their respective belief systems and convert swarms of new religious adherents. In the 21st century, deities have been appropriated in new forms that both replace and coexist with the more archaic mediums of painting and sculpture, returning them to the human panorama in video form. Moving images function as a medium, and the embodiment of deities within this medium of sensory experience increases their power to indoctrinate or bring salvation. Video liberates deities from human psychics and spiritual mediums to disseminate their sacred messages and advance their goals, thereby allowing them to communicate directly and potently with all sentient beings.
Entering Lu Yang’s ‘‘Cyber Altar’’, the triptych paintings and relief carvings prevalent on altars of the Western Middle Ages may come to mind. The five sections from the five-channel video work ‘‘Electromagnetic Brainology’’ amalgamate seamlessly into something reminiscent of a pentaptych in this retro-ostentatious modern-day altarpiece. The work invites believers to dissolve into a trance-like state and experience transcendence, a mental state where personal devotions and beliefs remain purely in the eye of the beholder as an intimate secret with the self.