K11 – the mixed art and retail concept space in Hong Kong – recently presented an exhibition by Lawrence Lek entitled “2065”, as well as an interactive showcase of vintage video games.
“2065” is Lek’s first show in Hong Kong. Art Radar looks at his practice and the exhibition’s eponymous augmented reality video work. Concurrently, “GAME UP: DIGITAL PLAYGROUND” invited visitors on a retro journey through the golden age of video game consoles.
Together, the two shows at K11 reflected on the past, present and future of video gaming technology, with Lawrence Lek’s exhibition “2065” at chi K11 art space representing a future dominated by AI (artificial intelligence).
Looking at the future: Lawrence Lek’s “2065”
Lawrence Lek was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1982. He is currently based in London, working in the fields of virtual reality and simulation. He creates site-specific virtual worlds and speculative films using gaming software, 3D animation, installation and performance. By rendering real places within fictional scenarios, his digital environments reflect the impact of the virtual world on our perception of reality – and reflect his interest in the social implications of space and its utopian potential.
Lek studied Architecture at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, the Architectural Association, London, and The Cooper Union, New York. His work has been shown as part of numerous significant group shows dealing with relationships between art and technology, including “Hyperpavilion” at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2017, “The New Normal” at UCCA in Beijing in 2017, the SeMA Biennale Mediacity Seoul in 2016, “Missed Connections” at the renowned private institution the Julia Stoschek Collection in Dusseldorf in 2016, as well as “Software, Hard Problem”, held at Cubitt Gallery in London in 2015 and curated by Morgan Quaintance. Lek won the 2015 Dazed Emerging Artist Award and the 2015 Tenderflix Artist Video Award.
Lek was born to Malaysian-Chinese parents in Frankfurt but grew up in Hong Kong and Singapore, where he developed an awareness of the geopolitical interactions between the East and the West. His video essay work Sinofuturism (1839 – 2046 AD) (2016) interrogates how Western media typecast Chinese society. The work identifies seven stereotypes of China: Computing, Copying, Gaming, Studying, Addiction, Labour and Gambling. Like the movements of Afrofuturism or Gulf Futurism, Sinofuturism adopts and subverts these cultural tropes, aligning them with forms of technological development and machine-based learning.
As winner of the 2017 Jerwood/FVU Award, Lek was commissioned to produce Geomancer (2017). Where Sinofuturism gives humans the properties of robots, Geomancer further blurs these boundaries to give artificial intelligence the emotional capacity of a person. The film follows a weather satellite named Geomancer who possesses human self-awareness and emotions and can even dream.
This ambiguity between human and machine, and between the real and the virtual, is fundamental to Lek’s practice. In an interview from 2017, Lek discussed his ideas in relation to The Weird and the Eerie (2016), a book by the late theorist Mark Fisher. Lek says:
In the middle of Geomancer, the AI asks, “Do I really belong here?” This idea of alienation is really important for me, and it’s related to Mark Fisher’s idea of ‘the weird’ versus ‘the eerie’. ‘The weird’ is something that is present but seems strange because it appears out of place, like an alien spaceship on earth. ‘The eerie’ is more to do with a sense of strangeness because something is absent. London totally evacuated, that’s eerie. It’s a helpful binary opposition in my own work. Let’s say I have a virtual world, you start with nothing, and so everything you put in has a strange presence. I try to construct scenarios where there is enough weird and eerie stuff so that people that come across my work really feel like this world is made for them. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.
At chi K11 art space, Lek’s exhibition took visitors to the year 2065, where the world is in the grip of the fictional Farsight Corporation and its AI computing expertise. “2065” created a fictional world set on a virtual island, which encompasses various locations in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. All jobs are deemed obsolete, as the human workforce has been completely superseded by AI. Video gaming, however, has become a thriving professional industry in which there is constant competition between human gamers and AI. As the robots learn new skills and become ever more human-like, they acquire a kind of creative consciousness that pushes them towards greater conflict with their human counterparts. Consisting of four films (two new) and an experimental installation made up of entrances to five experience zones conceived by Lek, the exhibition “2065” prompted the question: What will become of the world when robots want to become artists?
One new film, The Whim of Al Geomancer to Become Artist, continues the journey of Geomancer. In 2065, just as AI has superseded human labour in all industries, Geomancer comes down to Singapore in the hope of becoming an artist. However, an international group of pro-human activists formulates an ‘Anti-AI Art Law’, which banishes AI from galleries, exhibitions and art prizes. In this 48-minute film, questions are raised as to whether humans have a monopoly on art and creativity, or whether AI can develop a competing artistic impulse.
The installation of the exhibition was designed to create an immersive and disorienting sensorial experience, with each individual viewer (or player) having a different entry point into Lek’s alternate reality. Visitors to the show explored a parallel universe whose origins were gradually revealed through voiceover fragments, video extracts and animated drones. The world created in the exhibition was itself an architectural collage, a structure made up of other places. Players teleported between five zones: a simulacrum of K11, the Play Station headquarters, a club operated by Farsight Corporation, and the museum and casino around Singapore’s Marina Bay. Through video footage, voiceover and automation, an exploratory experience was outlined, representing an envisioning of the future of art, aesthetics and artificial intelligence.
The exhibition infused critical thinking with the virtual world, offering visitors an immersive experience of hi-tech living, where the boundaries between art and game, reality and virtual reality are blurred. Playing upon the seductive alternate reality of video games, “2065” questioned the total future convergence of reality and virtuality.
“GAME UP”: a digital playground at K11
Set in K11’s atrium, “Game up: Digital Playground” featured video game consoles from the 1970s to the 2000s, engaging visitors in a journey through the different ages of gaming’s evolution, with a focus on the cultural impact of video gaming from the perspective of art.
Since the 1970s, video games have seen a tremendous evolution, with over 70 types of game consoles created during these years. Starting with the 1970s Ball and Paddle Era, video games strode into the 1980s Cartridge Era, also known as the golden era, which started with the launch of the iconic Nintendo Famicom. In the 1990s, Sony introduced PlayStation, aiming to provide ultimate home entertainment. The release of Xbox and Wii in the 2000s marked the dawn of the new generation of 3D and HDTV era. Representing the ‘past’ of video games, this section of the exhibition showcased a series of retro consoles and the public were invited to play and relive these classics again.
Exploring the ‘present’ of video gaming technology, various Virtual Reality and eSports game demonstrations and two experience zones were set up, where visitors could try out the latest PlayStation® VR games and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) eSports experiences – an online multiplayer battle royale game – as well as other adrenaline-packed challenges.
Termed ‘the 9th art’, videogames have evolved beyond entertainment to become so-called eSports, which will be recognised as an official sporting programme at the 2022 Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China, where talented gamers from around the world will compete against each other. Does this symbolise a paradigm shift that will result in our reconsideration of the social and cultural implications of video games?
The two shows at K11 re-examined the artistic connotations of video games through an interactive and immersive experience that strives to elevate video games to the status of emerging art medium, offering visitors a glimpse of a forward-thinking concept of creative diversity.
‘2065’ by Lawrence Lek and ‘GAME UP: DIGITAL PLAYGROUND’ were on view from 21 March to 15 and 20 May 2018 at K11, 18 Hanoi Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong.
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