Spotlight: Artist Lawrence Lek Melds Video-Game Technology and Eerie Films to Peer Into Our A.I.-Dominated Future
Catch his CGI film 'Black Cloud' at the Ars Electronica festival this fall.
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About the Artist: London-based artist Lawrence Lek (b. 1982, Frankfurt, Germany) works across multiple mediums, incorporating unexpected technologies, such as video-game software and CGI animation, to create digital landscapes he calls “three-dimensional collages of found objects and situations.” His individual works can be viewed together as vignettes from his expanding and evocative cinematic universe, in which Lek delves into virtual reality’s effects on IRL experiences. Just recently, Lek was awarded the fourth annual Hyundai Motorgroup’s VH Award in partnership with Eyebeam, Asia’s leading award for new media artists, for his work Black Cloud (2021). The installation is the fulcrum of Lek’s ongoing artistic exploration of A.I.—as it manifests in both popular culture and in critical technology discourse, and its potential geopolitical implications. A traveling exhibition of Lek’s works, along with those of the runner-up artists, is touring for the remainder of the year, with an on-site presentation at the Ars Electronica festival, one of the world’s most important media-art festivals (in Linz, Austria, September 7–11, 2022), and an exhibition at Museum MACAN, Indonesia’s preeminent institution for modern and contemporary art (Jakarta, September 10–November 18, 2022).
Why We Like It: Lek’s digital works combine filmic vistas with pulsating musical scores. The auditory component is integral; the artist composes soundtracks and conducts audio-visual mixes of his films, even at times incorporating “live playthroughs” of his open-world video games. In his “Sinofuturist” trilogy of films—Sinofuturism (1839–2046 AD) (2016), Geomancer (2017), and AIDOL (2019)—Lek examined questions of identity and non-human agency within the context of technological acceleration in East Asia, in an imagined setting in the year 2065, chosen because it marks the centennial of Singapore’s independence.
Now in the CGI short film Black Cloud, we are carried through a largely abandoned metropolis of the near future, set in the fictional smart city of SimBeijing, a place built to train self-driving cars, but which has since become a ghost town. Here, cameras keep watch from every angle, while the remaining inhabitants engage with the digitized voices of virtual therapists and eerie electronic music plays. Nature seems to be reclaiming the fringes of this imagined dystopia, as a white wolf lopes across the abandoned highways. The work is at once visually mesmerizing and disquieting, and one can’t help but see allusions to moments of China’s strictest pandemic lockdowns.
According to the Artist: “On the broadest level, my practice is about making worlds and guiding people on journeys through them. As a child of the 1990s, I grew up with fictional worlds and time-based media—playing video games, reading science-fiction novels, and watching endless cartoons and films. Later, I came to visual art through making electronic music and studying architecture, two fields where manual craft has been transformed over the past few decades through digital tools. In architecture, for example, I used to make CGI renderings of speculative proposals for cityscapes and buildings, which isn’t that different to what I’m doing today. About 10 years ago, I started using video-game engines to make ‘site-specific simulations,’ taking real-world locations as found objects and placing them in speculative scenarios. In the beginning, these were exhibited both as interactive games that people could play as well as short, animated films that took the audience on a walkthrough or playthrough through these spaces.
“This process brought together traditions of world-building from science fiction and filmmaking but augmented them with an architectural or utopian worldview. This evolved from an initially collage-like practice to a more deliberate crafting of fictional narratives that explore identity and geopolitics. I would also develop the soundtracks and soundscapes that accompanied these journeys, sometimes in collaboration, sometimes solo,” Lek told Artnet News.
See additional stills from Lawrence Lek’s Black Cloud (2021) below.
For more information on the VH AWARD and to apply for the 5th edition, please visit www.vhaward.com
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