September 10, 2022 – February 13, 2023
LuYang: DOKU Experience Center
Born in Shanghai, LuYang is one of the most important contemporary Asian artists and this year’s Deutsche Bank “Artist of the Year.” LuYang belongs to a young art scene in China inspired by science fiction, manga, gaming, and techno culture that works with hypermodern technologies and deals with the ideas of posthumanism or transhumanism. These schools of thought explore how to extend the limits of human possibilities through the use of high-tech. What is extraordinary about LuYang’s work is that the posthuman is put in the context of Buddhist and Hindu cosmologies.
The exhibition DOKU Experience Center focuses entirely on a virtual reincarnation called Dokusho Dokushi, or DOKU for short. The gender-neutral avatar is a hyperrealistic figure whose countenance is modeled on LuYang’s face. All facial expressions and movement patterns are performed by dancers and then recorded using motion capture technology, a process that generates 3D models on this basis for video games, for example.
As in a futuristic research laboratory, all six digital versions of DOKU can be experienced in the exhibition. In addition to the first narrative video DOKU the Self, LuYang’s music video DOKU the Matrix, conceived expressly for the show, and the new series Bardo #1, which shows the avatar with its respective attributes in round mandala compositions, are presented.
LuYang studied at the China Academy of Arts in Hangzhou and lives and works in Shanghai. Since 2015, LuYang has been involved in numerous group exhibitions worldwide, like at The Milk of Dreams, 59th Venice Biennale. The artist has had solo exhibitions in Beijing, Moscow, Aarhus and Erlangen, and currently at the Zabludowicz Collection. 2019 awardee of the BMW Art Journey.
Curated by Britta Färber, Global Head of Art Deutsche Bank
Since 2010, Deutsche Bank has presented an annual award to an artist, offering a platform for new, global positions in contemporary art. The work of the “Artist of the Year” must always be of social and artistic relevance and develop new perspectives on the present. The tailored package includes an exhibition, a catalog, and purchases for the bank’s corporate collection. Nominations for the award are proposed by Deutsche Bank’s Global Art Advisory Council, consisting of curators Hou Hanru (MAXXI, Rome), Udo Kittelmann (Museum Burda, Baden-Baden), and Victoria Noorthoorn (Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires).
DOKU Human embodies the human realm of existence. Of all the avatars, this one probably resembles LuYang the most. But already in this incarnation LuYang questions our binary ideas. For the avatar resembles a cyborg. It is wearing a technoid suit, whereby it is not clear whether he is artificial skin or the body itself. In fact a Japanese master of the art of tribal tattoo, was asked to design tattoos for a digital human, after which the avatar’s body pattern was realized. DOKU Human seems to be a kind of blueprint for all of the other incarnations and is surrounded by a hypermodern urban world. In Buddhism, it is most desirable to be reborn in the human realm. Although in the human world suffering is inevitably experienced through birth, aging, illness, and death, and there is violence, separation, fears, human beings have the opportunity to learn to overcome themselves and their destructive behavior.
DOKU Heaven embodies the illusion of a completely carefree, bliss-filled existence in the realm of the gods or devas, a Garden of Eden, a conception of paradise. The avatar, clad in playful clothing, dances on the stream of a river adorned with fluorescent crystals, surrounded by a paradisiacal tropical forest full of spherical sounds and light phenomena. Here, one can also see the influence of various traditional Balinese and Indonesian dance styles, such as Legong, which LuYang recorded with dancers in Bali using motion capture and then digitally reproduced in the movements and facial expressions of her avatars. But the halo of DOKU Heaven seems like a deceptive aura. In the realm of Heaven there are also the temptations of luxury and idleness, the propensity for ignorance price, which prevent the pursuit of simplicity and awakening.
DOKU Asura represents the reincarnation realm of the asuras, the fighters, warlike titans or demons who are also celestial beings. In Hindu mythology, they were supplanted by the devas. In Sanskrit, Sura means “light being.” The prefix “A” indicates the opposite. Asuras are therefore “opponents of the light beings.” They quarrel with the gods and try to take their place, but they do not succeed despite constant struggle. The dance of DOKU Asura is inspired by the Indonesian Warrior or Baris dance. The design of DOKU Asura’s armor and the temple architecture interspersed with futuristic towers combine various global historical, mythical and religious elements with high-tech. Samsara, the wheel of life, is also integrated here in an ambience that is clearly reminiscent of the aesthetics of fantasy games.
DOKU Animal is at once naive and complex. This incarnation of LuYang, with its ear cap and boots made of fake fur, is less reminiscent of a deity or a superhero than of a cos player. Or the “Harajuku style” influenced by manga, goth, techno and Lolita fashion, which originated in the boutique district of the same name in Tokyo and conquered the world in the 1990s and early 2000s. But DOKU Animal does not dance in a teen show or at a techno rave or sporting event. Rather, the avatar appears in a kind of medical laboratory, which is simultaneously an abattoir, a gym for animals, and Noah’s Ark. It also refers to our ambivalent relationship to animals, to our compulsion to optimize and market not only ourselves, but everything around us. Of course, it also alludes to the suffering of animals, which continues to increase in unimaginable proportions in the ever more highly industrialized world. In Samsara, rebirth as an animal stands for instinct, ignorance, the blind drive for self-preservation. Animals, like humans, also have a Buddha nature. But they are incapable of recognizing it. They always remain hunter or prey and thus cannot escape the cycle of eating and being eaten.
DOKU Hungry Ghost
DOKU Hungry Ghost looks like a gothic pop star. The realm of Hungry Ghosts, the so-called Pretas, is traditionally inhabited by emaciated beings who can swallow only one drop of water at a time and are thus tormented by insatiable hunger and thirst. Hungry Ghosts represent the sins of addiction and greed. DOKU the Self begins with an apocalyptic vision in which DOKU Hungry Ghost wantonly destroys human civilization with earthquakes and monstrous thunderstorms, which it blames for its miserable existence. He dances in the style of Kebyar Duduk, an Indonesian dance in which a stooped posture and the use of fans are typical. Yet DOKU Hungry Ghost is a cold, unempathic apparition, reminiscent of a manipulative player. In the commentary, the avatar is also referred to as a “caster,” someone who establishes roles and identities instead of transcending them.
DOKU Hell dances with a severed head in his hand—the head of DOKU Human or LuYang? This archetypal motif alludes to Eastern and Western religions and art history. It can be seen as a reference to Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction, and at the same time the composition is reminiscent of Caravaggio’s famous painting David with the Head of Goliath (1600/01). Perhaps it also hints at the symbolic death of the artist, who is decapitated by his avatar. DOKU Hell’s dance is inspired by the demon queen Rangda, who fights against Barong, the leader of the good spirits. The battle between the two is embodied in the Balinese Barong dance.
In Samsara, hell is the lowest realm, and those reborn here must endure torment until their bad karma is repaid. With LuYang, a medialized, globally recognizable version of hell can be seen, reminiscent of the architecture of science fiction and mystery films or even the series Stranger Things. But as with the higher realms of Samsara or Dante’s Inferno, Hell is only a product of the human imagination.