Digital incarnation

A digital avatar with four arms posing as a manifestation of Shiva crowned with a golden medical apparatus. A decorated vehicle drives by, and the avatar, without hair now, is making faces on the vehicle’s side- and front panels on the rhythm of funky music. This description is a scene from Delusional Mandala, a video artwork from the artist Lu Yang. The artwork, a reflection on creation, stimulation and delusions of religious icons, questions the artist’s (un)consciousness and brain functions. The work itself is a Delusional Mandala illustrating destruction as a head trip. As stated in the video’s caption, artist Lu Yang reflects on personal, religious, cultural, historical, and future creation. The avatar simulates Lu Yang’s identity. Yang’s idealized digital version of themself plays with Erving Goffman’s description of “the front stage” in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959). The avatar is the artist, “but someone else at the same time,” as Ocula Magazine quotes Lu Yang. “That [sex-less] body,” referring to the avatar, “is the perfect body for me”, says Yang in an interview with ARTnews. Yang’s computer-generated body and their performance transcend absurdly from the binary world of the digital into a non-binary identity.

Delusional Mandala Video still (2015), image by Lu Yang via Vimeo

Backstage

Lu Yang’s avatar communicates the author’s backstory, but it does not have a consciousness of its own. The backstage is more evident in Yang’s latest avatar (Doku), as is discussed with ARTnews. This “backstage”, as Goffman describes it, is an independent private practice behind the scenes required for any creation of ”a public persona”. The self exists within the (virtual) performance. Doku is Lu Yang. Lu Yang is Doku.

There is “no self beyond what is performed for the front stage, and there is no front stage without a back stage”, explain Jurgenson and Ray in The Fan Dance: How Privacy Thrives in an Age of Hyper Publicity. Yang’s digital work, however, attempts to surpass a digital ‘dramaturgical’ framework of self-presentation as Jurgenson and Rey re-define Goffman’s theories to our computer-mediated age. The backstage is not the ‘real’ essence of the artist’s characters, but they cannot be cut loose from Yang’s organic self. According to Goffman’s framework theory, this persona, a.k.a. the ‘frontstage’, is not an inauthentic or incomplete of Yang either. However, like other digital avatars, Yang’s digital avatar is not limited by the principles of truth or validity. As a representation or ‘delusion’, the avatar reveals and hides the author while allowing them to control the given (mediated) situation.

Similarly, photos on social media selectively uncover oneself to the world. Eric Hughes’s Cypherpunk’s Manifesto defines privacy as the power to selectively reveal oneself. His notion of privacy is not the same as secrecy but is defined through publicity. It is the interplay of public and private that gives the performer/artist control over their performance. Despite the play with death and revival in Yang’s work, the avatar and the art itself do not change Yang’s identity. We could decode the Delusional Mandala as a misleading reincarnation. After all, avatar creation is “not [similar to] creating multiple identities in the psychological sense”, danah boyd explains in It’s Complicated, the social lives of networked teens. Avatars correlate to online platforms, various nicknames, forms of self-presentation and a wide range of interpretations. Because as an avatar, “by living on the Internet,” Yang states in an interview with The New York Times, “you can abandon your identity, nationality, gender, even your existence as a human being.”

Self-deceptive ritual

In Hindu mythology, the avatar incarnates in an earthly form instead of a computer-generated character, but who knows what we can incarnate to nowadays. Is the digital delusion, as with Yang’s Delusional Mandala, to surpass all frontstages and become a programmed new? If so, then the Mandala must be a meditative tool instead of a digital reincarnation, constantly circling back to the self as an identifiable centre point.

Guards

Guards – Hito Steyerl

The Art Institute of Chicago museum’s head of security, Martin Whitfield, and museum guard Ron Hicks talk about their background as police officers and demonstrate a defence strategy. The museum, a white cube is transformed from an art institution into a battlefront under the protection of security mechanisms. – a (commissioned) work of Institutional Critique now under surveillance of the Art Institute’s security team.

Medium: 2/5+2, 1 channel video, color video, stereo audio, 1080px x 1920px, 20’12” Date: 2012

Transformations Installations

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Shooting Gallery, 1985, Appollohuis, Eindhoven ©Guillaume Bijl
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Auction House, 1992, Castello de Rivoli, Torino - 1996, Kunstverrein Hannover, Hannover ©Guillaume Bijl
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Menswear, 1986, Kolnischer Kunstverein, Cologne ©Guillaume Bijl
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Your Supermarket, 2003 Tate Liverpool, Liverpool ©Guillaume Bijl

Night Rap

Night Rap – Mel Chin

a policeman’s nightstick, the side-handle shaped as an erect penis and the end modified with a wireless transmitting microphone.

Medium: nightstick (MONADNOCK PR-24), polycarbide plastic, steel, wireless transmitter, microphone element, batteries Date: 1993

SocialSim

Image 1: screenshot Dancing Mania, XR version, 2020 / Image 2 and 3: screenshot online event Hito Steyerl: Lecture 22 JANUARY 2021 hosted by Dramaturgies of Resistance

SocialSim – Hito Steyerl

“The video installation “SocialSim” is Hito Steyerl’s newest work and was made for the exhibition “I Will Survive” at K21. Due to the current shutdown, Hito Steyerl adapted a part of her video installation, the social simulation “Dancing Mania”, into virtual space. Social simulations are models used by behavioural scientists. Through different parameters, so-called quantified social interactions, prognoses of energy consumption, riots, suicide rates, and rates of infection are made.” – Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen

Guarded View

Guarded View – Fred Wilson

This installation consists of four black, headless mannequins dressed as museum guards wear a uniform from one of four New York cultural institutions: the Jewish Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Medium: Sculpture; wood, paint, steel and fabric Date: 1991 Collection: Whitney Museum of American Art

Interior Scroll

© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020

Interior Scroll – Carolee Schneemann

This print is one of several documentation works from Schneemann’s peformance in which she read aloud from a scroll of paper from her vagina.

Tate website: “Tate’s print comprises two black and white photographs of the artist on the table during the second part of the performance when she was withdrawing the scroll. A column of text on either side of the photographs elaborates the words written on the scroll. The text was taken from a super 8 film Schneemann had begun in 1973 entitled Kitch’s Last Meal. It recounts a conversation with ‘a structuralist film-maker’ in which the artist sets intuition and bodily processes, traditionally associated with ‘woman’, against traditionally ‘male’ notions of order and rationality.” (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/schneemann-interior-scroll-p13282)

Medium: Beet juice, urine and coffee on screenprint on paper Date: 1975 Collection: Tate Dimensions: (image) 90,5 x 183cm

Fen Ma + Liuming’s Lunch I

Fen Ma + Liuming’s Lunch I – Ma Liuming

This photograph is a documentation of the performance Fen-Ma Liuming’s Lunch, by Chinese artist Ma Liuming.  The artist as an androgynous alter-ego, Fen-Ma Liuming, cooked fish in a steaming pot naked and silent. The fish was served to the audience. The remains of the fish were placed back into the pot, which the artist attached (with a tube) to his penis and began sucking and breathing at the other end. 

Medium: Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper Date: 1994 Collection: Tate Dimentions: 61 x 50,8cm