Nasty attends “Break the Dark Ice” a new exhibit by Lulu Wang at Pocko Gallery, curated by Maria Abramenko.
As you enter the Gallery; your eye is arrested by the image of a human form engulfed in a shimmering black liquid. It covers the face, hands, to the elbows. A body subsumed by a foreign and unknown matter. It is both sensuous and otherworldly. This is enhanced by an ethereal soundscape where its tonality emphasises the heterogeneous nature of the space. It marks the culmination of what Wang describes as a process born from the pandemic which “represents the regenerating and cocoon-break of the self in a lost world”. This is then the starting point of collaborating visual creations, with performative character; to explore identity and its belonging. That dark liquid is actually black gelatin composite. It represents the uncertainty inside humanity and through that – the path to greater self-realisation. Its impact is enhanced by the fact that the residue hangs beside the image itself. Like a peeled skin resulting from Ecdysis. Far rougher in its texture than in the image. Wang compares this to a second layer of skin:
“It is a legacy of the alien inside of me, adopting the shape and DNA of my body. It is a metaphor for the elusive change of life, a protection against human fragility. I’ve always had a strong interest in alien life and sci-fi themes, for example from movies like Under The Skin, Arrival. Humans and aliens are outsiders to each other, looking for ways to “agree to disagree”. The alien may seem elusive and beyond understanding, but it is a call to connection and evolution, which reminds us that changing is part of nature. We all have aliens existing inside of us – to be acknowledged and embraced.”
The centre of the room marks the start of a new path for Wang. She points out that it brings more of her past experience into play, her background as a graphic designer and performance artist. Free, floating lines created in pencil, mark pen and chrome paint resemble functional and emotional elements rooted in human form; from body shapes to the organs within. Shaped during a spontaneous process and open to interpretation from all. Rather than confining them to one thing it is better to think of them as representing “human flow”:
“The shapes are like shards and puzzles, through seeking human shapes from abstract lines, it shows the process of discovering identity. Space and body contours emerge in flowing lines.”
Wang describes how it represents a new starting point for her. Before, she employed broader sweeps of acrylic marks and colour. This new method is more precise and marks an evolution that includes more of her past as a whole. Drawing as a meditative process to facilitate conversation with her “inner voices”:
“It gives me freedom to explore different perspectives of understanding what I see and how I feel about the things happening, changing and passing in my life. With movement and dance, they outline the base of creating performances and characters.”
She describes how her current process has also been enriched by leading workshops to people from all backgrounds, creating an experimental environment to then guide and encourage their expression through the visual and movement in a sharing space. It becomes a “visual meditation” where the senses become a portal to link the imagination to the movement of the body. A “Spiritual dialogue” that is initiated by the performer’s body. A way to visualise the seemingly intangible.
As with the flow in her drawing, all of her pieces are embedded with intricacy. One of her works, Scores, is a mirror that doesn’t reflect the true image of the beholder. Looking more closely you see little dotted constellations joined by faint lines. At first I thought these had been etched or imprinted, until Wang reveals that they were stitched in with thread. Reflective embroidery that’s visible in the dark. She has a great interest in using reflective elements. Those threads represent humanity’s self-protection and awareness, embodying the present in a constantly changing environment:
“Be aware of our existence; otherwise we are lost”.
A mantra from her performance. There is literally a human thread that runs through all her work and connects it on a conceptual level. Connecting all of her work is the idea of the body as a vessel which then uses movement to leave its own signature. It shapes how she sees herself and now others.
Another work of Wang’s, hanging opposite the wall is her duo piece of film, Umi. This maps out the movement marks and interactions in the space made with the audience; who all made indentations on it during one of her live performances. Wang compares the movement that she seeks to embody to a spiritual connection with the Ocean. With its infinite space, energy and being in constant flux, shared by bodies within it. To Wang, the macro and micro of the body can be extended across various media. Some of which she has on display this eve. In the middle of her duo piece is a very fine wire imbued with light. Vein is the installation from Wang’s recent collection, which is the culmination of the flowing sketches’ transition to materials. Representing the minimal form of the presence of the body. A vein from the inner alien cuts through space naked – revealing and intriguing.
At this stage of Wang’s practice, the artist traces back to her roots by connecting her creative history in visual design and carrying it beyond with new technology. Digital tools have been a natural foundation of Wang’s creative process since the beginning. We touch upon how her process is intersecting with AI in her latest illustration from new project Prototype – a learning process and communication between human habit and its cyber reflection. It is an extension of her existing fascination with regenerating appearance and identity exploration. This process helps develop her ideas of character building, in the next step:
“Working with generative systems is an inspiring process where I discover the variable possibilities and sometimes weird mutations. By creating a collection of prototype hand drawings, I feed the system to learn my visual language and build a digital database. It’s like reading myself from another side of the world in cyber language. At the same time, it is essential to centre my human senses not getting overwhelmed by the digital influence.”
She likes the idea of AI working for humanity; where AI can build up a library of her style – like a catalogue that is then at the service of the artist. Not as a means of replacing the artist. Technology as a tool for collaboration. She describes it nicely as a ripple of water that expands, but humanity must always be the originator of that ripple.
Diving into her new project Prototype, a collaborative outcome which includes visual work and performance. The Prototype concept installation is a physical presentation from Wang’s drawing lines. This installation shows the concept of Wang’s upcoming performance character Lulu X at Whitechapel Gallery on 3 August 2023. A new performance character exploring diasporic experience, human identity and its belonging. She seeks to embody the complete spectrum of emotional exploration through movement and voice, intertwined with the power of sound and generative AI:
“The Whitechapel performance marks the debut of Lulu X, a journey that delves into the quest for spiritual fragments through movement which ignites the essence of sound and rhythm. This presentation hopes to transcend the boundaries of human nature by navigating the delicate interplay between vulnerability and strength. It weaves a narrative of self-discovery, where the echoes of the past and the present converge, generating visions of the future.
Lulu X is an empty vessel which collects shards of my history and reinvents it into a futuristic avatar. It is a process of seeing and embracing the beauty of imperfection of oneself.
“Lulu X has a wonderful team to help with its production. I work with DOP Johann Spindler and Jessica Au, fashion brand Sapiensiii, sound technician Jared Bennett and product designer Rain Paul Mueller. For the upcoming performance, Lulu X will be in a new outfit from Mainline: RUS/Fr.CA/DE by Zarina Bekerova, styled by visual consultant Jahnavi Sharma. There will be a new visual work from my drawing animated by Yiqing Chen, showing alongside the performance, with another version of me performed by dancer Yanki Yau.”
Break the Dark Ice and the upcoming Lulu X performance represent the evolution of an artist who is making advances with each new step and adapting her craft. Learning to include all aspects of her life and find a valued place for them in her work. It is a declaration of self liberation and transformation. This is a craft rooted in honesty. Gaining more power when its purity is honoured by the process.