An old condition in new flesh: LuYang NetiNeti at the Zabludowicz Collection.

LuYang NetiNeti at the Zabludowicz Collection, 22 September 2022–12 February 2023.

The kinetic energy of LuYang’s multimedia work will feel at once familiar and just slightly off-kilter for the more casual observer of contemporary eastern pop culture. Familiar in its use of CGI-generated avatars, cranked-up dance beats and k-pop visual references, the added depth and exploration of the non-binary self in the works, brings something new into play for anyone not used to the kind of philosophical questions that Asian art forms often directly but heads with. Questions such as: where is the self, who am I and how like the gods are we mortals?

DOKU – Binary conflicts invert illusions, 2022 (still). Courtesy the artist.

Multimedia artist LuYang’s pronoun is they and, for visitors to the latest exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection, this is the ideal leaping-off point to ask what it means to be ‘of’ and ‘in’ the flesh.The work of this Shanghai-based artist explores the aesthetics of pan-Asian, 20/21th century media (there’s a strong Lawnmower Man feel to some of the videos being shown), particularly in regard to deconstructing the notion of individuality. In fact, the exhibition’s title, LuYang NetiNeti references the Sanskrit ‘neti neti’, which, translated roughly into English conveys the notion of ‘neither this, nor that’. 

You can watch, Doku The Self, (2022, Single channel 4K digital video)in the Main Hall of the building, the film commissioned by Zabludowicz Collection specifically for the exhibition. It’s a sign of how much the visual aesthetic and conceptual concerns resonate within contemporary western culture even, that so many visitors spent the full length of the film enthralled in the narrative loosely based on Buddhist gods and a journey through mountains strewn with the skeletons of previous lives.

Non-binary pronouns and the fading of gender specifics could probably be called one of the primary workhorses in contemporary cultural exploration right now. LuYang’s work is at its strongest when working that concept and exploring the notion of selfhood. Particularly in Doku The Self, which ends out in space with a ‘spirit’ stripped of organic references, pondering on what it might mean to exist without access to the senses of the body.

While the works on display are playful and easily engage the senses, appearing at once easily consumed and familiar on the surface level, they’re digging into deeper questions that continue to haunt the human condition. In the exhibition notes, there is mention of LuYang’s work with robotics. It would have been interesting to see some of that as part of this exhibition and to understand if that pushes the post-humanist conceit even further than the CGI on show here.