Yuhang Zhang

2022 PhD Scholar
Goldsmiths, University of London

Deimantas Narkevičius, Revisiting Solaris, 2007. Image Courtesy of Power Station of Art

From the early debates among church fathers concerning the problem of evil to Giorgio Agamben's recent polemic on the irony of how the ‘empty throne’ turns out to be the ‘last instance’ of today’s dumpster of capitalist political-economy[1], it seems that God always maintains a hands-off stance. Remarked by Vilém Flusser in The History of the Devil, God, the transcendence beyond space and time (a more 'scholarly' expression of 'hands-off') is the desolation to the phenomenal world. God seeks to retrieve the world to the state of 'pure Being,' or in other words, to nothingness. However, Flusser continues, the Devil is the immanence who keeps the world running. The Devil takes care of the world that God has left desolate. This is most apparent in Hieronymus Bosch's depictions of Hell, where the Devil is not as a harbinger of doom but rather as a skilled mechanic. The Devil designs all those machines and systems that keep our flesh and souls going while heaven, under God's reign, remains silent and empty 'as hell.'

When I learned about the announcement of ‘Cosmos Cinema’ as the theme of the 14th Shanghai Biennale, the first image that popped into my mind was incredibly thrilling. A carnival of videos, light projection and vector displays zigzagging, moving images copulating with each other; there was definitely something diabolical in my cinephilic excitement. Before Anton Vidokle dedicated an entire e-flux journal edition to the Biennale, the Devil’s machine, the apparatus consisting of projectors and screens, had already been running. Photons are Diabolic Particles, amounting to the ‘inherent vice’ seducing us there. ‘Alright, let the film play and we will see’, I thought. It might not be surprising that there was almost nothing about the cosmic horror genre in the Biennale. No Tentacles Longer than Night, 'Event Horizon' or 'Hellraiser', except a giant snake comically smashing itself into pieces[2]. The Devil’s appetite was sufficiently catered to by silver-gilded geometrics[3] and the quantum melancholy of Solaris[4]. The ecstasy brought by Julieta Aranda[5] said, ‘Do not be afraid. In zero-gravity, you’re going to enjoy whatever feeds you.’

Tao Hui, The Fall (The Legend of the White Snake), 2023. Image Courtesy of Power Station of Art

Photons and their devilish dance – they are an open secret we’ve learned about when film was first invented more than 100 years ago. The concept of ‘cinephilia’ is entangled with its twin, ‘cinephobia’, the fear of film’s mechanic mesmerism that haunts and manipulates the audience in front of the screen, and the stunning fact that the audience is actually complicit in the film’s conspiracy. Even the most righteous video artists nowadays (i.e. every video artist) have to invent their own little demonic gadget to plot with their viewers. Some of them even ritualistically sacrifice themselves to maximise the functionality of the machine in the name of trauma, affection, or social justice. But we shall not forget that we always play with something that is utterly alien to our existence, notwithstanding our humanly intentions. Film is a media object, and as remarked by Eugene Thacker, the fact of mediation itself is horrific because, strangely, it all seems to work too well ‘beyond the pale of human capacity or comprehension’[6]. Thus, concluded by director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, ‘all films are horror films.’[7] No longer being the excited or agitated receptors of films, we have already passed the infancy age of cinephilia and cinephobia altogether. But why are we still there, playing with and watching these demonic particles flickering in front of our eyes? Because we have already turned into a mediated subject and part of the mediation ourselves; or because we may not care as much about our ‘humanly existence, comprehension and intentions’ as we believe so in the first place.

Trevor Paglen, Orbital Reflector (Triangle Variation #4) Scale Model, 2015-2018. Image Courtesy of Power Station of Art

Being a sect of Judaism in its early days, Christianity found its earliest success not in bringing forth the Messiah but in the expertise of exorcism. Early Christians were excellent in dealing with demons and would serve all in need despite their beliefs. Ironically, their exorcist rituals, in their acquaintance with demons, were later adapted to form the basis of the rituals for conjuring demons, necromancy, and black magic. The Devil loves this kind of double dealing. Red Death's masque is both His entry permit and Himself[8]. But be aware, from the very beginning, the Devil may not have any specific belief or purpose, despite your self-deception. He just likes to keep things running. Giggling and mocking your voice, the Devil says, ‘Alright, let the film play and we will see’.

[1] Giorgio Agamben, The Kingdom and The Glory , trans Lorenzo Chiesa (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 216-259.

[2] Tao Hui,The Fall (White), 2023

[3] Trevor Paglen, Orbital Reflector, 2015-2018

[4] Deimantas Narkevičius, Revisiting Solaris, 2007

[5] Julieta Aranda, Stealing One’s Corpse, 2023

[6] Eugene Thacker, 'Dark Media,' in Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Mediation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2014), 77-149, 90.

[7] Kurosawa Kiyoshi, 'What is Horror Cinema?,' trans. Kendall Heitzman, in映画はおそろしい [Film Is Scary] (Tokyo: Seidosha, 2001), 26.

[8] Mark Fisher, 'Gothic Materialism', in What Is Materialism?, ed. Alberto Toscano and Ray Brassier, vol. 12, Plí: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy (Warwick: PLI - Warwick Journal of Philosophy, 2001), 230–43, 237.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights-Hell (1490-1510). Image courtesy of Yuhang Zhang


Yuhang Zhang is a writer and critic based in London. He is currently the 2022 Asymmetry PhD Scholar in 'Advanced Practices' at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he also earned an MA in Contemporary Art Theory. Alongside Xingyun Wang and Chu Zhou, he co-initiated Djinn Puddle, an online theory-fiction project.

In 2021, he co-curated The Pineal Eye, a research-based exhibition project supported by Goethe-Institut Peking. Yuhang has contributed reviews and fiction writings to Qilu Criticism, Daoju, Kua, and other publications. His latest project, a theory-fiction of archives, unsolved murder cases, and the logistics landscape in East Asia, is set to be published in late 2023.