Yasumasa Yonehara × Lu Yang Interview
Lu Yang, a new media artist from Shanghai who specializes in visual arts, installations, animation, games, 3DCG and other forms of digital media to express the scientific and spiritual worlds, will be be having her first large-scale exhibition in Japan titled “Electromagnetic Brainology” at the Omotesando Spiral Garden. Raised with knowledge and inspiration from Japanese subculture and having already opened several exhibitions in Japan, Lu Yang talks with Mr. Yonehara, who frequents China and is knowledgable about the art scene there. He discusses her background and beliefs, and the current trends in China.
People in reality are too clumsy, so I believed that manga characters were the only beautiful people out there.
Yasumasa Yonehara (Y.Y.): I first saw your artwork at your exhibit in Shanghai ART021. At the time I also took photos of your digital work (laughs). How many times have you been in Japan?
Lu Yang (Lu): I don’t remember. I’ve been here so many times now.
Y.Y.: Wow! Can you speak Japanese?
Lu: I can speak a little bit. I never went to school for it but I’ve studied on my own a little.
Y.Y.: At the time, David (producer of ART021) told me I should see your exhibition and that was the first time I saw it, and I hadn’t really done my research beforehand… Afterwards I did a lot of research. I’m an old friend of David’s and he’s the one that first brought my exhibition to China.
Lu: He’s a very interesting collector, isn’t he?
Y.Y.: I read that you watched Japanese anime – how did you get interested in it? When were you born again?
Lu: I was born in 1984. When I was little, I used to watch robot anime. I especially loved stuff that was on Shanghai television that boys would watch, like Saint Seiya, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and Tekkaman Blade. I also love Evangelion. Right now I like watching sexy, even violent anime like GANTZ. The reason I don’t like anime like GUNDAM is because it’s too realistic – I like anime that is farther from reality.
Y.Y.: Since you were born in the 80s, that probably means you grew up in an era where you were able to read JUMP-type manga like Slam Dunk. Were you interested in that kind of stuff?
Lu: The types of anime that came from Japan was pretty limited back then. When Slam Dunk was airing, I would watch it. But more than that, I like cult-type animation work. Anything that wasn’t on TV, I’d go to the bookstore selling manga and would use my allowance to purchase and read them.
Y.Y.: That sounds very rare in a place like China. Did you have any other female friends that were also interested in what boys would usually like? Or… ah, I remember reading you were a social withdrawal.
Lu: There was a small bookstore from Taiwan near school that sold pirated DVDs and manga. Because they were pirated, they were written in traditional Chinese characters instead of simplified Chinese characters.
Y.Y.: So because of that, did you learn to read traditional Chinese characters?
Lu: As I read manga, I learned to read the traditional Chinese.
Y.Y.: The surprising thing is, if you love Japanese manga you sometimes learn to speak Japanese. That’s why it’s pretty mind-blowing to think how much research is necessary to get there.
Lu: But in my case, I only understand a little, I can’t really speak it.
Y.Y.: I see I see. Somtimes kids like that don’t really see anime as “art” but they like it enough to want to start drawing it themselves. Did that ever happen to you?
Lu: Yes. When I was in the first grade, I copied Saint Seiya drawings, and my dream then was to become a manga artist.
Y.Y.: Did you write a story to go with your drawings?
Lu: I was only copying the drawings at the time. But the thing I thought was the most beautiful back then was the characters in the anime. The characters were just so beautiful to me. People in reality are too clumsy, so I believed that manga characters were the only beautiful people out there.
Y.Y.: So that’s something you believed in as a kid, but is that reflected in your work now?
Lu: I love the characters in anime, and when I draw my main characters in an anime-like way, it makes my work even more fun and enjoyable.
I love the lead singer from the Japanese Visual-kei band “Sendai Cargo”
Y.Y.: Also, cosplay is such a big thing in this generation. Are you ever inspired by cosplay?
Lu: There are many levels when it comes to cosplay in China. I love it when the quality is great, but most of them are low quality and when you compare the real thing with the Photoshopped photos, it’s just so different. I’m usually disappointed when I see that.
Y.Y.: So I’m guessing you’re not that interested in the “real” thing.
Lu: If it’s high quality cosplay, I like it.
Y.Y.: Out of all the cosplay I’ve seen during my trips to China, there was a group that did a very realistic kind of cosplay that was very theatrical. I was pretty blown away by that.
Lu: Actually, I like the lead singer of the visual-kei band “Sendai Cargo” more than “real” cosplay.
Y.Y.: So it’s visual-kei.
Lu: The vocalist is a little bit chubby and truthfully he’s not that handsome or has particularly good style, but he cosplays the way he wants and that’s what I like about him. Like he’s enjoying that gap.
Y.Y.: Does he look that different when he does cosplay?
Lu: He frequently dresses up as Hatsune Miku…
Y.Y.: Wait, and he’s a guy?
Lu: Yes, he’s an older man (laughs). I always look forward to watching him perform in cosplay. It’s cute. Like this (show’s Yone a photo).
Y.Y.: (After seeing the photo) Wow, that’s crazy. This is more than cosplay (laughs).
Lu: Yes, I like cosplay that is a bit far from the norm. For example, drag queens. Erotic stuff.
Y.Y.: So pretty much like the world of Department H.
Lu: Yes, I love Department H. It’s so fun!
Y.Y.: I actually have a lot of friends in Department H. Do you happen to know fancyHIM? Have you ever been? It’s an event in 2-Chome (the gay district).
Lu: Yes, I’d love to go!
Y.Y. I’ll invite you next time. I think you’d really like it. There’s this guy named Tap who is the organizer and he’s always dressed so funky.
Lu: I really think that cosplayers like them are the most pure-hearted people out there.
Y.Y.: I usually associate myself with the underground community and consider myself an “outsider;” are you also interested in people on the outside?
Lu, Of course, I absolutely love this kind of culture.
Y.Y.: It’s still a bit taboo to talk about LGBT or drag queens, or topics related to gender in China even now. What do you think about all that? They’re so strict about not putting a fine line between male and female, and even destroy websites related to such topics.
Lu: The gays around me don’t really take offense. They’re very open about it. A Japanese male artist named Mao Sugiyama that I met a while back had surgery to get rid of his gender. I learned about him when I was in Shanghai, and my friend informed me about his procedure. When I read the article closely, it was written that he didn’t want to be a male or female and that’s why he had surgery. He did an event in order to raise funds for the procedure. I was able to truly understand why he did what he did.
Y.Y.: In Beijing, there’s this place called “Destination” where a lot of gay folk get together. I always check the place out whenever I’m in Beijing, and it’s always crowded and I’m always in awe that there are so many gay people in China, especially places like Beijing. In northern China, there are more muscular, macho men so I think that’s a reason why there are so many gays in the area.
Lu: I think because you’re constantly in an environment surrounded by artists, naturally there are more people who are open about their gender. Once, a friend of mine took me somewhere that was similar to “Destination,” and it was even more large-scale. It’s at this place called “OBAMA.” It’s a gay club and when I went, there were so many people. It was a circular building, with a couple of pole dancers and a lot of macho gay people. When you enter you kind of just lose yourself in there, it’s that crazy.
My artwork was covered in a white cloth by government officials so that I wouldn’t become a bad influence to others
Y.Y.: When it comes to producing your artwork, do you ever encounter any problems while in China? Are you able to freely create your work?
Lu: The piece you mentioned earlier, “子宮戦士 (Uterus Warrior)” that’s being exhibited at ART021, was covered in a white cloth by government officials so that I wouldn’t become a bad influence to others.
Y.Y.: Right. I went as well but was told that there was a limit to entry and was finally let inside.
Lu: But on the other hand, I think more people came to the exhibit because officials covered the piece (laughs).
Y.Y.: (Laughs). When did you start thinking about producing art? I read that you didn’t attend university to create the kind of artwork you make now, so when was it that you decided to really get into the creative side of things?
Lu: In first grade when I was copying the artwork for Saint Seiya, I started to think about pursuing a more creative career.
Y.Y.: So you were already thinking that way from an early age.
Lu: I learned and enjoyed the fact that I could express my creativity by making art.
Y.Y.: Did you ever think of trying something different from other people and just diving in?
Lu: Since I was in elementary school, I was always an otaku (nerd), and when I was in junior high school, I wanted my artwork to reflect the thoughts in my mind. I loved reading manga that were a bit off from the norm like GANTZ or Death Note. I also love manga like Inuyashiki where an older person is the main character, and even though that character is far from perfect, the fact that they can become the main character and a hero is awesome. Inuyashiki is a newer work, by the way. In “Death Note,” Raito Yagami is my favorite character.
I think videos with a strong concept can act as a counter
Y.Y.: Right now in China, video form is a the popular way to express yourself on SNS. Even in your work, I can tell you are paying attention to what’s going on now and incorporating what’s in. Everyone in China is watching videos now, so I feel like more and more artwork is becoming video-like.
Lu: I don’t think it’s necessarily like that for me. What I want to express can be better expressed through video form rather than still form, which is why I create videos.
Y.Y.: So you’re saying you’re not really going with the trends in China.
Lu: I’m not really following the trends in China, in fact, I’ve been creating videos for a while now… I don’t really consciously think of myself as a Chinese person or about Chinese trends, but more the fact that I am one human being, so I don’t really care about trends.
Y.Y.: Right now where so many people are doing selfies and there is so much video content out there, in contrast, I think videos with a strong concept can act as a counter to all that. Apart from thinking of it consciously or not.
Lu: But on the other hand, I’ve seen trendy videos of beautiful girls and I actually thought they were pretty interesting.
Y.Y.: It’s not that I dislike them since I watch yizhibo sometimes.
Lu: In order for more people to watch your video content, some people really go to extremes and do weird stuff. There’s this video I really like – it’s this trendy video where the person sticks a corn-on-the-cob on a drill and tries to eat it but that person gets his hair stuck in it and it starts falling out. When I did an exhibition in Beijing, there were way more people watching the videos as opposed to the number of people that actually came, so I realized that video service is really popular and if someone like myself is interested in funny videos like that, that means normal people really dig that stuff.
Y.Y.: Do you want more peole to check out your work? Or would you rather have people that really understand your work to see it?
Lu: I think I’d rather have more people see my work. Even if someone sees my work and doesn’t show interest at first, my artwork is colorful and has a lot of anime elements in it which makes it interesting, so I feel like that person would gradually show more interest in my work. I’d love for people who are not so interested in my work yet to check it out.
Y.Y.: So are you thinking of using your social media well to make that happen?
Lu: I upload some of my work on Vimeo. I believe that my work is gaining more recognition because I put it out there. I’ve had people contact me for business opportunities after seeing my work on Vimeo.
Right now, I don’t care about business opportunities or making more money. I want to use all the time I have to create.
Y.Y.: You’re using Chanmomo◎ as a model for your work this time – what made you want to work with her? How did you find her?
Lu: I first found out about Chanmomo◎ after watching an interview on an NHK documentary. She talked about how she always looked up to Japanese idols, but she didnt think her face was cute enough. She openly talked about doing a lot of plastic surgery and how she continues to go after her dreams, and to me, I’ve always wanted to associate myself with a beautiful person like her.
Y.Y.: She is an exception even in the idol world, and is in a slightly different position. That’s why when I learned that you were collaborating with Chanmomo◎, I was surprised that you understood all that. I actually did an exhibition with Chanmomo◎ before once. I made a photobook out of the photos I took for the exhibition, so I’ll give you a copy later.
Lu: I actually like idols like Chanmomo◎, and I think I may have seen your work with her.
Y.Y.: Really? Chanomomo◎ directed the project, having the young idols wear jerseys and also creating situations for me to photograph where she herself looks really good, ending up being a pretty perverted exhibition. It made you see morning bedhead in an erotic way.
Lu: I’d love to do the kind of work you do because it sounds so fun (laughs).
Y.Y.: In the idol scene these days, girls who are emotionally unstable are usually under the spotlight, which creates this very perverted situation to raise them. I used to think that was the counter-culture, but it’s a money-maker so now, making it normal entertainment. “It’s not a band!” with Chanmomo◎ is probably one of the last idol groups that was considered counter-culture. Even I feel that you are part of the counter-culture now, but I was wondering how you’d feel when you become more mainstream. I wonder if you’ll continue to find things to go against.
Lu: It’s not that important that many people understanding my work – I’d rather more people just see my work. You can check out my work online now so there are always those people that say negative and hurtful things about me or my work, but I honestly don’t really care. I’m a nerd so I wouldn’t be against more people viewing my work and it won’t affect the style of my work.
Y.Y.: In China, there’s this strong image that artists are successful and make so much money, and many people think the same way of me and tell me that. But in Japan, artists aren’t so successful and don’t make that much money. Do you ever think of becoming successful and being rich?
Lu: I’m not really thinking so much about money… I’m not so concerned about business opportunities or making money in the near future beacuse I’m still young and it just takes a lot of time and energy to create what I’m creating, so I want to use that time on creative work and not use it on business opportunities at the moment. If I can focus on creating right now, I believe it can lead to even bigger business opportunities in the future and in the long run, so while I’m young now, I really want to focus my attention on just creating.
Y.Y.: You’re work is so large scale. Like the face.
Lu: Yes, I use up most of my time on my artwork.
Y.Y.: Do you have a message for your fans?
Lu: I’m so grateful to those of you who took the time to come see my artwork. Thank you!
Lu Yang was born in China in 1984. In 2010, she graduated from the China Academy of Arts, and is currently based in Shanghai. She creates art based on themes such as chemistry, biology, religion, pop culture, sub-culture, music, etc., in art forms that combine installations and digital paint. Her recent exhibitions include “Port Journey Project – Yokohama to Shangai LU YANG Exhibition (Zou no Hana Terrace, Kanagawa Prefecture, 2016) and “LU YANG Screening Program” (Arts Chiyoda 3331, Tokyo, 2013). She has also showed her artwork at group exhibitions such as “Venice Biennale” (2015) and “A Shaded View on Fashion Film” (Pompidou Centre, Paris, 2013).
Yasumasa Yonehara is an editor, artist and photographer. Inspired by the Japanese school girl street culture, his work is often expressed as a form of media, a pioneer of the Japanese school girl underground culture after the 90s. He forsaw the influence of social media, and uses his Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Weibo platforms to upload content that pertains to Japanese culture. In June of 2017, he introduced 3 artists’ opening exhibitions with similar themes put together through different approaches, and continues to climb the ladder of success.
Title：LU YANG Exhibition “Electromagnetic Brainology”
Dates：January 5th (Friday) ~ January 22nd (Monday) from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
Location: Spiral Garden (Spiral 1F) (Minami-Aoyama 5-6-23, Minato-ku, Tokyo)
Translated by Samantha Mariko