Indonesia and Japan

At the last Hong Kong Art Basel, I was lucky to be selected as the winner of the BMW Art Journey. With the support of BMW Art Journey, I am now able to materialize a project that I have been dreaming about for years.

Tremendous time and effort are required to prepare a journey like this. Thus, my journey was not able to commence until January of 2020. My project is relatively complex compared to those of other artists previously selected for the BMW Art Journey, especially since it uses advanced technology, which is costly. I would like to take this opportunity to once again extend my gratitude to BMW for their relentless support and assistance.



We have encountered numerous technical difficulties as we got to this point. The creation of top-notch virtual and digital human and facial micro-expression is one of the greatest challenges we had. We spent several months conducting research globally for potential partners in this area. We set up many meetings to explore the feasibility of the plan. Finally, we decided to partner with facegood, from China, to work on the most technically- sophisticated aspects of the project. facegood possesses the most advanced patent technology in China to capture facial micro-expression. I invited facegood to join me in advancing my BMW Art Journey. Their technology is capable of capturing facial expressions and body actions on the spot. The digital capturing we did in Indonesia turned out to be highly professional. I am excited about seeing the fruits of the post production by facegood, in which virtual digital human renderings will be created with matching action data.

We captured dance motion data from four dancers during our stay in Indonesia. They were renowned dancing actor Kebyar Duduk, Wayan Purwanto, who helped arrange for all indoor action capture and outdoor shootings, Legong dancer Ni Kadek Sudarmanti, Rangda dancer Made Sukadana, and warrior dancer Dewa Putu Selamat Raharja. The four sets of captured motion are highly representative of Indonesian dance traditions. The facial micro-expressions and action data of these dancers will be used in the final artwork I will create after the Art Jouney.



We captured dance motion data from four dancers during our stay in Indonesia. They were renowned dancing actor Kebyar Duduk, Wayan Purwanto, who helped arrange for all indoor action capture and outdoor shootings, Legong dancer Ni Kadek Sudarmanti, Rangda dancer Made Sukadana, and warrior dancer Dewa Putu Selamat Raharja. The four sets of captured motion are highly representative of Indonesian dance traditions. The facial micro-expressions and action data of these dancers will be used in the final artwork I will create after the Art Jouney.


In addition, with the support of the Japan Foundation, we were also able to connect with PARCO in Tokyo, which lead us to invite kEnkEn, a celebrated young dancer from Tokyo, to join us in Bali Indonesia for data capturing. Not only did we finish the data collection of kEnkEn’s facial and body gestures, he also managed to stage a spontaneous dance battle with local dancers at the doorsteps of a temple in Bali. Such precious, meaningful moments will be reflected in the documentary on the production of this artwork.


Due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, we regrettably had to postpone our trip to Kerala, India. Such changes in schedule have disrupted my itinerary with the facegood team, and they also affected is Rekorder, the highly professional documentary crew from Germany that was planning to make short film based on this segment of the journey. Local partners from India have no choice but to wait for our updates.

It is painful to witness such a disaster hitting hard on humankind. As a Chinese person, and as a human being, my heart shatters as I see people suffer from this calamity. Most of our BMW Art Journey team has been drowning in anger, misery, depression and distress since we returned from Bali. I sincerely hope that all suffering people can recover soon, and especially, that there will be no more loss of life and broken families. Through art, I hope to draw people’s attention to reflect on human behavior, so that we can see how greed will cost the lives of the innocent and stop the brutal slaughtering of wildlife just to satisfy the appetites of a few.

I am deeply grateful for the BMW team, who always seeks to understand each of our decisions and unreservedly support us in our difficulties. We shall complete our trip to India as soon as the epidemic is over.


Has God determined the aesthetics of human beings? With our eyes and brains, we can discern people’s tribe, gender, age and appearance clearly, and thus differentiate one another. However, it is difficult for us to tell who is who among monkeys in a zoo. In our brain, there is a specific area which is responsible for categorizing various types of human beings. This creates for us a world of diversity.

Buddhism defines eight types of suffering that most people will encounter in their lifetimes: The suffering of living. The suffering of aging. The suffering of sickness. The suffering of death. The suffering of separating with loved ones. The suffering of hatred and bitterness. The suffering of not getting what you want. And the suffering due to the five skandhas.

The longer we live, the more understand these sufferings. Our physical bodies appear trivial in comparison to the Nature. By creating a digital replica of ourselves, we seem to be able to get rid of most body-bound sufferings in a virtual way.

It’s like creating a robot that is identical to us. We can even imagine copying and uploading our awareness to it. The desire to exist in humans is so strong that we would likely accept such replica to replace our existence. The concept of “I think therefore I am“ is unable to stop modern-time humans from their eagerness to create a replica of themselves. It’s like a dream within a dream. We are so obsessed with the existence of “I”. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we are experiencing everything firsthand, or if it’s just our virtual replica existing and experiencing life on our behalf.

The spiritual longing for fictional characters is not unique to technologically advanced societies. Thousands years ago, people were already creating or worshiping invisible objects in the form of idol worship and myths. Such forms reflect humans’ desire for physical and spiritual perfection. Immortal bodies, never-aging bodies, the “perfect” body according to one’s own aesthetics, a gender-less body, bodies that are not bound by time and space, bodies that do not physically exist, and even a wise object that only mentally exists – these are all examples of such fantasies.

I create many different characters in my artwork. I allow those characters to embody my work and I often makes myself one of the characters. In these works, I attempt to simulate different stages of life with my own character. I also test the limits of deep brain stimulation by controlling my body.

On my BMW Art Journey, I have collected images of numerous dancers – from the Balinese dancers who have been training for decades since the age of 4-5, to the Kathakali dancers from Kerala, South India. These practitioners master exceptional techniques to control their facial and body muscles, which are otherwise impossible for ordinary people to achieve. With digital technology, I was able to simulate similar muscle control to create miraculous effects. In the world of virtual reality, physical limitations are removed, all things become possible. I was able to recover the data of humans training themselves to become robots. This data brings the digital human to life in the virtual reality. Boundaries between machines and humans melt away.

In this simulated world, the digital human I created is gender-neutral. It embodies exaggerated visual effects and it is capable of switching between various digital platforms, e.g. VR, game engine, 3D animation, real-time motion capture performance, digital character live-stream platform etc. Its developmental potential is limitless.

The digital sequences in these videos are made with equipment developed by FACEGOOD, the digital technology provider of Lu Yang’s BMW Art Journey. The complete expression of the digital human by Lu Yang requires the support of two crucial technologies. First, technology to collect and recover the delicate performance of the dancers. For instance, the facial micro-expressions of the Balinese and the Indian kathakali dancers are extraordinarily refined and complicated. Standard technology to capture facial expression will not be sufficient to render such extraordinary details. FACEGOOD has adopted the latest innovations for capturing facial expression. By deploying state-of-the-art duo camera technology, FACEGOOD can generate 3D reconstructions of the rapidly changing subtle micro-expression of the dancers. Second, the 3D facial expression data has to be recovered on the digital human created by Lu Yang. Traditional modeling is be capable of recovering such high-fidelity data. FACEGOOD has made use of a specially developed muscle system to process data from the dancers’ facial expressions. By adopting concepts of anatomy and biokinetics, the system produces high-fidelity simulations of every detail of the dancers’ performance.


AS: You are deeply interested in the limits of the human body, and also in what we can do through cultural practices and with technology to surpass our human limitations. Where did this interest come from?

LY: The interest in our own body should not be unique to me. It’s a common attribute shared by all humankind. If you look at religions and myths from the ancient times, you can always see the pursuit and longings of human beings going beyond one’s own flesh. The traditional dances that we are shooting for the BMW Art Journey reflect the efforts and attempts of humankind throughout history to break through one’s own physical limitations. Instead of calling it a unique interest, I’d rather say this is a shared exploration of all human beings – a journey which transcends history.

AS: I am curious about your cultural influences. Your art seems to absorb everything — from ancient religions to Manga comics and everything in between. What experiences and cultures have been formative for you?

LY: Indeed. I believe those that are amusing and powerful in human history will not be hampered by time. In modern times, we tend to think that the latest is always the best. However, our mentality is prone to be limited if we keep pondering history and everything else in the universe in a linear way. On the other hand, if we choose not to limit ourselves by time and space in our thinking, then the universe will present its truth in a holographic manner –and our world will be boundless. I’m fond of all the truths and interesting things that are within my scope. This is the universe.

AS: Can you tell me about your thought process behind your proposal for the BMW Art Journey?

LY: This project for BMW is actually what I’ve always wanted to do. So when you asked me what I might do during Hong Kong Art Basel, I could tell you right away what it was. I’d say this is karma. It is a piece of work which formulates part of my worldview through art creation. When the time is ripe, it can be presented. The Orient believes in karma. To me, the BMW Art Journey is the karma of this project.

AS: You decided to go to three locations and interact with three distinct cultural practices. Why these? And how do you expect each of these visits to be different?

LY: These three locations are all in Asia, and the cultural attributes to be explored span from ancient times to the present. I am deeply influenced by the Orient – in thinking, religions, philosophy, and aesthetics.. Asia is a vast continent. There are many connections to be made, as well as contradictions to uncover. I like India and Japan very much. I used to frequent these two countries before. There are lots of traces of Indian and Japanese culture in my works. I’ve never been to Bali, but I have read a lot of information about Legong dance, and I yearn to see experience it in person. I am impressed by the culture of body under these different backgrounds throughout history. I’m very much looking forward to this project.

AS: You have already started thinking about a complex methodology for analyzing the dances and movements in each location and group you are visiting. Tell me about the technology you are using.

LY: I have been using motion-capture technology to create my work for the past 2-3 years. The technology was used to capture motions of the limbs, however, I’ve never captured facial expressions or finger movements. I’m going to capture them for the first time during the BMW Art Journey, and it’s going to be challenging. Such delicate motion-captures will also be adopted to my personal work at a later stage. It’s also challenging to render the facial muscles of the game engine's characters. I am looking forward to it.

AS: You are deeply engaged in learning about robotics and will soon start graduate level training in the field. What can an artist bring to this area of science, and what can it bring to art? How do you feel in general about the conversation between art and science?

LY: As you mentioned before, my work is a fusion of past and present, East and West. To me, there is no distinction between art and technology. Even to the point that I never feel that I am really doing art. These are only labels. I’d be interested in trying anything, as long as it is interesting. With such a mentality, you won’t have much restriction in whatever you do. Robots and our bodies are both carriers. They are both substances. Buddhism refers to the physical world as a world of matters. My two latest works are built around the world of matters. From a macro point of view, arts, culture, technology, tradition, and modernity all belong to the same system. This way of thinking is less limiting.

AS: As someone who is building new forms of consciousness and working on stretching the limits of humans, what do you think about our present-day situation? Do you have a plan to change it? Where would you like us as a society to go from here?

LY: We can only feel what we feel. Everything we feel forms our understanding of the world. We can experience happiness and sorrow, pleasure and pain. These feelings are restricted to the person who feels them. Regardless of the function of the technology, its ultimate goal is to bring better experiences to the person in question, or to amplify pleasure and lessen our pain. But it is difficult for all these changes to resolve the problems that human civilization fails to resolve since the beginning of time, which is to bring about ultimate happiness. Can we be certain that we are now enjoying more and avoiding more pain than those living in the past? I address these questions in my works from different perspectives. As time goes by, the physical and mental joy and pain will surely give meanings to everything in our memories.

AS: I would like to know how you are preparing for your journey — mentally, emotionally, physically. What are you most excited about? What are you most worried about?

LY: First of all, you need to plan and book the trip. By doing so you will think more thoroughly about the data record and future use of the project. I tend to expand the scale of my work during the process, to perfect whatever is imperfect. Because to me, creating art is a way of thinking in my life. My works are not merely objects for display at fairs. I am very much looking forward to seeing the performances of these dancers. I’m also waiting to work with the highly professional motion-capture technology with full anticipation. I am more anxious about the lack of experience in capturing facial expression and finger movements, as well as the later application of these data.

AS: You once told me you basically work nonstop on your art. This journey will bring something new to your practice. What do you think will be impact of the journey on your work?

LY: I think this Journey is a huge production experience for me. My concept of this work requires strong technical support in all aspects. Such technologies need to be locally adopted and they will gather data for me to use upon returning home. It is a complicated and challenging process. This level complexity and the technical difficulties involved exceed my previous experience. It is going to be a huge challenge.

AS: Finally, if you had to sum up your state of mind in one word (or a few words) before the journey, what would it be?

LY: Challenge.