When looking at the work of Asian artists Curry Tian, Mariko Mori, and Lu Yang, it feels as though you’ve stumbled upon a portal into another world. These words are found within Tian’s dream-like experimental films, Mori’s extraterrestrial costumes and landscapes, and Yang’s multimedia videos and performances of dancing digital avatars. Their art explores cultural and identity politics, aiming to bridge the gap between cultures such as those of East and West, past and present, and drawing connections between science, technology, spirituality, and the body.
Curry Sicong Tian
Curry Tian is Los Angeles-based motion graphic designer and filmmaker with industry experience in digital art, illustration, animation, photography, and creative directorship. Originally from China, Tian holds an MFA in Animation and Digital Art from the University of Southern California and a dual degree from Tsinghua University in Journalism and Visual Communication. In 2019, she was invited to speak at Motion Plus Design, the motion design industry’s premier global event, in Tokyo. Tian cited her relocation from Beijing to Hong Kong as a pivotal moment in her career, when she realized the importance of Chinese culture and began fusing cross-cultural influences in her practice.
Saṃsāra, Curry Tian, 2019
One of the overarching themes in her work is Yin and Yang, which is the concept of dualism in ancient Chinese philosophy, describing how seemingly opposing forces may in fact be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent. Her series ‘Supreme Pole’, made using CGI, is inundated with references to both Eastern and Western cultures. In ‘Supreme Pole-01’, the West is represented through Christian iconography. Small, winged babies descending from above allude to cherubs, symbolic angelic figures frequently mentioned in the Bible. Overhead, there is a massive red structure resembling an upside-down gothic style cathedral with a rose (circular) window and spires. Behind the cathedral is a circle depicting a traditional Chinese landscape painting. Circles can represent a number of symbols found in Eastern belief systems including the yin and yang, Ensō, and the dharmachakra, or wheel of dharma. One of the oldest symbols of Buddhism, the dharmachakra is used to signify Buddhism in the same way across signifies Christianity. What’s interesting about this portrayal is that instead of pitting the East and the West against one another, they coexist in harmony. Tian envisions a globalized world based on celebrating cultural difference as opposed to division and prejudice.
Among her most captivating short films is ‘SIMULACRA’ (2020), which won awards for the category Best Experimental at the Student Academy Awards as well as the New Wave Short Film Festival in Munich. Described as a multi-immersive experience integrating live-action and motion capture, ‘SIMULACRA’ takes viewers on a journey into the memory of an elderly Buddhist nun. The woman recalls a moment in her past where she and her multiple identities performed a sacred ritual to transform a dark entity into a graceful spirit. Instead of relying on narrative or dialogue to tell her story, Tian uses mood, colour, and tone, particularly red and white, to immerse viewers into an otherworldly realm. The concept of duality is manifested through the triumph of good over evil, the ability to turn obstacles into complementary forces.
SIMULACRA, Curry Tian, 2020
Born in Tokyo to an affluent family, Mariko Mori is a Japanese multidisciplinary artist known for her photography, digital art, sculpture, and installation. Mori attended university in London at the Byam Shaw School of Art and Chelsea College of Art and Design before moving to New York to pursue an independent study program at the Whitney. Several preeminent institutions around the world have exhibited her art, including the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, and the Venice Biennale. Her diverse body of work investigates themes of technology, spirituality, and transcendence. Mori is particularly concerned with the ways in which our world is interconnected and the reconciliation of polarities such as East and West, myth and science, antiquity and modernity.
In her early film and photography, Mori uses her body as the subject to explore futuristic characters and fantasies. Borrowing from cosplay, the artist assumes different identities by dressing herself in self-made costumes, photographed as alien, cyborg, mermaid, pop star, and goddess. Her 1994 photographs ‘Play with Me’ and ‘Subway’ depict Mori as a blue-haired cyborg standing outside a toy store and as a technological alien in a subway car in Tokyo. As the decade progressed, she began abandoning urban scenes in favor of more surreal and mystical settings. As seen in her work ‘Pure Land’ (1996-98), a divine female figure floats above a lotus blossom in a serene, golden landscape. The figure is Mori as Kichijoten, the Japanese goddess of fortune, fertility, and beauty. Here, like in traditional Asian painting and sculpture, Kichijoten is represented as a beautiful, ornately dressed Tang dynasty court lady. Symbols of Eastern mythology are juxtaposed with futuristic elements through layering photography and digital imaging. Flanking the deity are six cyborg-spirits playing musical instruments on puffy little clouds and, in the back, a funky spaceship with limbs.
Her later series shift their focus to the rituals and belief systems of prehistoric cultures like Japan’s Jomon (c. 14,000 – 300 BC) and Europe’s Celtic periods. In her installation ‘Transcircle 1.1.’ (2004), Mori combines ancient motifs with advanced technology by reinterpreting Stonehenge as a ring of miniature monoliths made of glowing lights. Rather than presenting today’s technologies as incompatible with representations of antiquity, they are embraced as tools that can aid humanity in reconnecting with our surroundings. Mori’s more recent practice may be less centred on self-portraiture and contemporary visual culture and media but continues to fuse past and present in order to imagine our future.
Shanghai-based multimedia artist Lu Yang is one of the most radical and innovative practitioners in the global contemporary art scene. Interested in alternate worlds, Yang enrolled at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, where they were exposed to the latest technologies to make these worlds come to life. Yang has gained attention and acclaim from scholars, art critics, the media, and institutions as the poster child of new, cutting-edge art from China. Rejecting labels like ‘Chinese’ or ‘new media’ artist, Yang’s work can be difficult to conceptualize, operating at the precipice of art, science, and technology. They work with 3D animation, video projections, CGI, medical diagrams, supplemented with text and frenzied electronic music. If you had to characterize their practice, it would be maximalist, provocative, and humorous even when addressing taboo topics such as ageing, menstruation, illness, and death.
Consistent throughout their work is a fascination with pop culture, especially Japanese anime and manga, and Eastern religions and philosophy. These influences are explored through the avatar as both the manifestation of a deity and a character from a video game or other virtual platforms. Since 2012, Yang has created non-binary avatars to deconstruct notions of gender, sexuality, and other markers of identity. Their first avatar starred in a film called ‘Uterus Man’ riding a chariot crafted from a human pelvis and skateboarding on a sanitary pad. Multimedia moving-image work ‘Delusional Mandala’ (2015) challenges societal constraints and imagines new possibilities for the body. In the film, the avatar, a genderless version of the artist, dances in outer space while being probed by diagnostic machines. Diagnosed with a brain tumour, the avatar dies and resuscitates over and over again.
Yang’s more recent art-making has become increasingly transnational and collaborative, teaming up with designers, technicians, sound engineers, and performance artists from around the world. Live-motion capture performance ‘Delusional World’ (2020) shows a performer dancing in front of an LED screen where the digital monsters, all sporting Yang’s face, mirrored his movements. With the assistance of motion capture technology, this performance allowed the artist to embody a myriad of non-human identities, including a three-headed, many-armed being with a split torso, resembling a Hindu god. Yang has also made a splash in the music and fashion industries with their newest avatar Doku. Like earlier avatars, Doku is uncannily lifelike and androgynous, appearing in a music video for The 1975 and a fashion show for Chinese sportswear brand Li Ning. In an interview with ARTnews, Yang revealed that they have been polishing Doku’s aesthetic, adding wrinkles and a new hairstyle, suggesting Doku won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
Link to ‘Delusional World’: https://luyang.acmi.net.au/