Spotlight: Artist Lawrence Lek Combines Tech From Video Games and Weird Movies to Take a Peek at Our AI-Dominated Future

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About the artist: London-based artist Lawrence Lek (b. 1982, Frankfurt, Germany) works in multiple mediums, incorporating unexpected technologies, such as video game software and CGI animations, to create digital landscapes he calls “collages dimensions of found objects and situations”. .” His individual works can be seen together as vignettes of his expanding and evocative cinematic universe, in which Lek delves into the effects of virtual reality on IRL experiences. Most recently, Lek received the Hyundai Motorgroup’s Fourth Annual VH Awards in partnership with Eyebeam, Asia’s leading award for new media artists, for his work Black cloud (2021). The installation is central to Lek’s ongoing artistic exploration of AI as it manifests in both popular culture and critical technological discourse, and its potential geopolitical implications. A traveling exhibition of Lek’s works, as well as those of the finalist artists, is on tour for the rest of the year, with an on-site presentation at the Ars Electronica festival, one of the world’s largest media art festivals ( in Linz, Austria, September 7-11, 2022) and an exhibition at Museum MACAN, Indonesia’s leading institution for modern and contemporary art (Jakarta, September 10-November 18, 2022).

Black Cloud (2021). Courtesy of the artist.” width=”585″ height=”330″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/LawrenceLek_BlackCloud-Screenshot_02-1024×576.png 1024w, https ://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/LawrenceLek_BlackCloud-Screenshot_02-300×169.png 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/LawrenceLek_BlackCloud- Screenshot_02-1536×864.png 1536w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/06/LawrenceLek_BlackCloud-Screenshot_02-50×28.png 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news- upload/2022/06/LawrenceLek_BlackCloud-Screenshot_02.png 1800w” sizes=”(max-width: 585px) 100vw, 585px”/>

Always from Black cloud (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

Why we love it: Lek’s digital works combine cinematic vistas with heart-pounding musical scores. The auditory component is integral; the artist composes soundtracks and makes audiovisual mixes of his films, sometimes even incorporating “live playthroughs” of his open-world video games. In his ““Sinofuturist” film trilogy—Sinofuturism (1839-2046 AD) (2016), geomancer (2017), and AIDO (2019) – Lek examined questions of identity and non-human agency in the context of technological acceleration in East Asia, in an imaginary setting in the year 2065, chosen because it marks the centenary of Singapore’s independence.

Now in the CGI short Black cloudwe are transported 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 watch from every angle as the remaining residents interact with the digitized voices of virtual therapists and eerie electronic music tracks. Nature seems to reclaim the margins of this imaginary dystopia, as a white wolf crosses the abandoned highways. The work is both visually compelling and disturbing, and one can’t help but see hints of times of the strictest pandemic lockdown in China.

According to the Artist: At the broadest level, my practice is about creating 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 cartoons and movies without end. Later, I came to the visual arts by making electronic music and studying architecture, two fields where manual craftsmanship has transformed over the last decades thanks to digital tools. In architecture, for example, I used to do CGI renderings of speculative proposals for cityscapes and buildings, which isn’t that different from what I do today. About 10 years ago I started using video game engines to do “site-specific simulations”, taking real-world locations like found objects and placing them in speculative scenarios. At first, these were presented both as interactive games that people could play as well as short animated films that took the audience on a guided tour or reading through these spaces.

“This process brought together world-building traditions from science fiction and film, but complemented them with an architectural or utopian worldview. This has evolved from an initially collage-like practice to a more deliberate elaboration of fictional narratives that explore identity and geopolitics. I would also develop the soundtracks and soundscapes that accompanied these journeys, sometimes collaboratively, sometimes solo,” Lek told Artnet News.

See additional footage of Lawrence Lek Black cloud (2021) below.

Still from Black Cloud (2021).  Courtesy of the artist.

Always from Black cloud (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from Black Cloud (2021).  Courtesy of the artist.

Always from Black cloud (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

Still from Black Cloud (2021).  Courtesy of the artist.

Always from Black cloud (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

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