This article is written by Shuang Cai, a multimedia artist, curator, and writer.
The thing about gears is that if two gears are meshed, adjacent gears will move in the opposite direction but synchronously. While constantly studying the kinetics of gears, Lu Lyu, a Chinese kinetics sculptor, also metaphorically reflects this delicate interplay of gears through her art practices. In the creation of her kinetic motion sculptures, Lu Lyu skillfully utilizes the robust nature of kinetics and electronics to juxtapose and metaphorically narrate stories of warmth and human emotions, crafting intricate dialogues between the mechanical and the emotional. She forges a unique realm where the cold precision of machinery converges with the nuanced expressions of the human experience.
I have known Lu Lyu since her time at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), a hub for artists, designers, and engineers exploring new media practices. It was during her postgraduate residency at ITP that I had the opportunity to witness her intriguing piece, “Mountain on the Ridge of Your Hand.” From a distance, the viewer is instantly captivated as a colossal pearlescent mesh gradually coalesces, resembling the serene contours of a mountain, reminiscent of those depicted in traditional Chinese landscape paintings. Upon approaching, participants are encouraged to place their fist beneath an artificial device that resembles a sedimentary rock, only more shimmery and fluorescent, allowing the mountain behind to emulate the contours of their knuckles. This interactive engagement directly links the viewer to the scenic representation. Moreover, the metaphor of a tightly clenched fist introduces a symbolic connection, where the precarious ascent of the mountain mirrors the intensity of the human body, accentuating the profound bond between human emotions and nature.
Upon further investigation, I realized that she excels in clever metaphors and the juxtapositions of seemingly disparate elements, often weaving these connections with her personal experiences. “Fold Qingguo Alley” stands as another kinetic sculpture in her portfolio. Prior to its dynamic movement, this plate-sized display intricately featured a scenic view of Qingguo Alley in her hometown – Changzhou, China, resembling a traditional watertown landscape. Executed with discreet yet vigorous black lines, the texture and composition echo the aesthetics of traditional Chinese ink painting and calligraphy. Upon interacting with the sculpture and spinning various parts on its surface, a transformative revelation unfolds: the pieces seamlessly reassemble into a concise illustration of towering skyscrapers in a bustling city. Lu Lyu’s artistic expression is deeply rooted in her upbringing during China’s rapid development, marked by the gentrification and urbanization of her hometown. Remarkably, the beauty of this piece lies in the nature of a spinning kinetic sculpture, allowing it to be viewed from two distinct chronological orders — transitioning from town to city or vice versa — each presenting a completely different narrative within the artwork. This artwork was featured in the International Kinetic Biennale in January 2023. MANA, a global community for new media art, reported it as one of the 30 selected works in Painting and Technology in 2022.
This inclination towards motorized elements, as described by Lu, unfolded organically. She reflects on the unintentional integration of moving parts into her works, propelled by the small spinning electronic components. This unintended synergy between her artistry and motors hints at a fascinating intersection of creative intuition and the inherent dynamism within electronic mechanisms. It prompts a closer examination of the symbiotic relationship between artists and their tools, shedding light on how technological elements can become intrinsic to the artistic narrative, often steering the creative process in unexpected and compelling directions. Significantly, it is through her reflection on her practice and her close engagement with moving parts that Lu gradually incorporates her 3D modeling and form design skills, obtained through her background in industrial design. As we delve into the nuances of Lu’s practice, we see a convergence of artistic expression and technological preferences, a testament to the transformative power of motors in shaping contemporary artistic discourse.
Neil Postman’s adage in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, “Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and-that,” encapsulates the dual nature of technology, acknowledging its potential challenges and benefits. Part of the burden of technology in art is that, stereotypically and historically, the incorporation of technology and technical skills into artistic practices has been perceived as masculine and exclusive, often creating a divide between those with and without specialized knowledge and occasionally creating a gimmick effect to the art utilizing a new technology. However, a reevaluation of this perspective, exemplified by artists like Lu, unveils a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between technology and artistic expression. In challenging the stereotype that technology in art is exclusionary, Lu’s work serves as a compelling example of how embracing technology can be both empowering and inclusive. Rather than perpetuating a binary view of technology as either a hindrance or a boon, contrary to the masculine stereotype of electronics, her artistic practice exemplifies a nuanced, and more importantly, intuitive integration, where the tools and techniques of technology become instruments of creative liberation. And following the same vein, Lu is presenting her first solo show in :iidrr gallery this March. The exhibition, titled “Sail East to Find Lemnos!”, unfolds Lu’s distinctive reinterpretation of Lemnos, the island of women in Greek mythology. Deviating from the conventional mythical portrayal and eliminating the male gaze, this imaginative rendition takes shape within an Eastern cultural context. Lu Lyu expresses her creative vision through the language of sculptures, presenting a unique and culturally nuanced perspective on this mythical island. :iidrr, the gallery and platform hosting this momentous event, has a rich history of collaboration with renowned contemporary artists. Among them are luminaries such as Xin Liu, Ziyang Wu, Yunxue Fu, Yang Beichen, and Lucas Blalock. Lu’s upcoming exhibition at :iidrr gallery in New York marks a significant milestone in her artistic journey. It promises to showcase her more experiential and exciting works, combining traditional sculpture with intricate mechanisms to present a fresh and innovative perspective on the possibilities of kinetic art.
Similar approaches in the intuitive incorporation of technology in art can be found in many recent artists’ practices – new media or not. Jessica Wee – a Korean heritage painter – uses 3D modeling tools to discover and explore unconventional lighting for her personal yet magical folktales. Her reliance on open-source tutorials and engagement with online communities emphasizes the inclusive and community-oriented nature of the technologies she employs. The parallel between Lu Lyu and Jessica Wee lies in their shared belief that technology can be a tool for creative liberation rather than a hindrance or exclusive element in the artistic process. Both artists exemplify a contemporary approach to art where the choice of tools and technologies is driven by individual artistic vision and the desire for inclusivity, breaking down traditional barriers associated with the incorporation of technology into artistic practices.
In the current landscape of pervasive new technologies, diverse opinions emerge, sparking immediate discussions on the accessibility and ethical implications of these evolving tools. While crucial, these conversations often overshadow a more primitive consideration when it comes to art: the acceptance and perspective surrounding the integration of technology. Amid the allure of tech arts, it’s essential to emphasize that gimmicks should not dictate the incorporation of technologies into art, nor should they solely determine one’s appreciation for technological interventions in the arts. The pivotal factors lie in the creative minds driving the integration of technology and the depth of their artistic expressions. Once again, when Marshall McLuhan states “the medium is the message,” this time – the message is art.
Lu is a kinetic artist and a creative technologist. Lu holds an M.S. in Interactive Telecommunications from New York University, awarded in 2021. She is also the founder of the Kinetic Sculpture Club at NYU. Currently, she is a senior creative technologist at Deeplocal. She was the lead creative technologist that created interactive experiences for clients like Google, Baidu, Shopify, Stripe, Macy. Her work has been exhibited at the International Biennial of Kinetic Art, Stephens Lake Park Art in Park Festival, Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, and Zhongshan Park. Lu was a research resident at NYU from 2021 to 2022. She has participated in residency in Lower Manhattan Arts Center.
Shuang Cai is a multimedia artist, curator, and writer. Their art practices focus on logics, interactions, and humor. Their curatorial works aim to bring forth the power of interconnectedness and diverse voices across communities. They hold a Bachelor’s degree from Bard College majoring in Computer Science joint Studio Art and a Master’s from New York University Interactive Telecommunication Program(ITP). Currently, they are the curatorial director of LATITUDE Gallery, research resident at ITP and curatorial fellow at NARS Foundation. They were an editor of Adjacent and have curated shows at LATITUDE Gallery, NARS, theBlanc, All Street NYC, and Joy Museum (Beijing).