The monstrous body is always a construct and a projection, bearing the traces of historically specific othering processes. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula(1897), the quintessential modern vampire novel, the eponymous Count Dracula embodies an eclectic range of traits—race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality—all of which were deemed threatening to British national identity at the time by (and within) fictional texts, sexual science, and psychopathology.[1] Whereas Dracula incarnated the phobias—particularly anti-Semitism—of the Victorian era, contemporary vampires like those in the Vampire Chronicles and Twilight series are no longer monstrous or even particularly distant from hegemonic identity: they are white, monogamous, purely aesthetic creatures (fun fact: also, oftentimes, collectors). This latter-day fantasy of the vampire entails an act of perhaps far greater violence than those of its 19th-century Gothic predecessors: the total erasure of otherness from representation.

In Yong Xiang Li’s I’m Not in Love (How to Feed on Humans) , the artist restores the tired motif of the vampire, injecting it with a sense of queer warmth. In this freakish and playful narrative-film-cum-music video, a 386-year-old Asian vampire — Vampy — struts about town tending to his three lovers, or symbionts [2]. Apparently, his venom is not venomous at all, but instead grants pleasure and long life. His brows are adorned with rhinestones, not diamonds—a budget vampire, rather than the aristocratic “guardian of Western aesthetic culture” of Anne Rice’s humanistic interpretations [3]. And it’s not clear if he is the one in control in this foursome. During a date, Human Symbiont N, age 32, coaxes him into feeding on her so that she can receive an energy boost to excel at work. Meanwhile, a parallel storyline about a human girl having relationship problems unfolds alongside Vampy’s romances. By weaving the human and vampire worlds into a seamless whole, Li rescues the blood-thirsty creature from the parasitic dungeon to which it is conventionally relegated, and reinvents a benign kind of vampirism coexisting in symbiotic—and polyamorous—enmeshment with its human companions.

1. See Jack Halberstam, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, Duke University Press: 1995

2. We may note the influence of Octavia E.Butler's 2005 vampire novel Fledgling here. In this, Butler's final work, vampires are also conceived to live in consensual  and mutually beneficial romantic relationships with multiple partners,  which she too calls 'symbionts'. Whereas Butler's entry into the vampire genre centers on racial politics, Li's work affords more of a queer reading.

3. Frank Gardy, "Vampire Culture", Monster Theory, edited by Jeffery Jerome Cohen, university of Minnesota.

Text by Alvin Li

Yong Xiang Li (Changsha) is a Frankfurt-based artist. He works in diverse media and tests out the intersections of painting, sculpture and music and video. 

Influenced by diaspora politics, his works often inhabit a spatial-temporal oddity beside the seemingly monolithic cultural formation. He completed Meisterschüler at Städelschule, Frankfurt in 2020. He has recently exhibited at Antenna Space in Shanghai, Portikus in Frankfurt, Emanuel Layr in Vienna, Deborah Schamoni in Munich, Long March project in Beijing, etc.


curated by Mohamed Almusibli

04. 12. 2020. > 14. 02. 2021


Yong Xiang Li - I’m Not in Love (How to Feed on Humans), 2020