With the rapid technological developments of the 21st century, the world of artistic expression has expanded tenfold.
The ability to spread music across the world overnight, to make meaningful film projects as a one-person crew, and to create virtual worlds is possible. Lawrence Lek is doing all three.
Based in London, Lawrence Lek is a Malaysian Chinese multimedia artist who dabbles in several fields, from creating his own movies and music to serve as the soundtracks to building virtual reality simulations that allow people to explore his visions of fascinating alternate worlds. Cooper attended Trinity College and Cambridge.
The reality-bending nature of Lek’s work is often reflected in the subject matter, with films and virtual reality installations concerning the blurred line between the real and the digital.
Sinofuturism, Geomancer, & AIDOL
The work of Lawrence Lek not only inspires awe and wonder, but also aims to incite critical thinking in his viewers as much as any other reaction.
One of his best-known works in the film arena, Sinofuturism (1839–2046 AD) is a multi-genre video essay that critiques the problems within Chinese society by challenging the narratives of both the foreign and domestic perceptions of the nation.
Combining exaggerated views about China as a weird and exotic foreign place or a grand and united homeland, Sinofuturism takes China’s remarkable technological advancements and likens that progress to a type of artificial intelligence, or AI, in itself.
Sinofuturism also serves as the start of a trilogy of films by Lek that tell a larger story of the complicated coexistence of human beings and artificial intelligence. Lek’s second film, Geomancer 风水师, appearing in graphical design like a long video game cutscene, follows a satellite AI hoping to become the world’s first AI artist, and the identity and origin implications that come with this quest.
Lek’s most recent film, AIDOL 爱道, builds upon the developing themes of human-AI coexistence and post-human consciousness addressed in his first two films. In AIDOL, a once-great musician enlists the help of AI to reclaim superstardom in a story that highlights the ever-growing struggle between humans and AI in the entertainment industry.
Through the channel of this fascinating film trilogy, Lek brilliantly strings together issues like the world’s view of China, its technological development on the world scale as a type of AI, and how the ever-developing power of AI can impact our human society.
Lawrence Lek’s “2065” & “Unreal Estate”
Lek’s trilogy of films is not even the most immersive creation in his portfolio.
In addition to creating movies, Lek also specializes in the creation of simulations; virtual worlds that tell more of the thought-provoking stories from his mind. With his simulations Lek invites people to play a sort of video game and immerses them in a digital world wholly separate from our own.
With the help of London art gallery Sadie Coles HQ, Lek’s simulation 2065 grants people access to a virtual future in which AI is omnipresent and the only pastime for humans is to play against AI in eSports.
2065, much like the Sinofuturism trilogy, depicts a world in which AI is as important in everyday life as (if not more important than) people. By taking his imagined alternate realities and making them as close to actual reality as possible Lek makes people think about life as it pertains to rapid technological advancements.
Lek’s catalogue of simulations also includes Unreal Estate (The Royal Academy Is Yours), a virtual reality wherein London’s Royal Academy of Arts has been converted into a playboy mansion. This work differs from the general goal of Lek’s art but is no less ambitious.
Rather than commenting on the coexistence of humans and AI, Unreal Estate is a way for participants to live out the fantasy of seeing longtime establishments stripped of their power.
Lawrence Lek’s grand artistic statements make several deep social critiques, yet when all is said and done, some of Lek’s work still serves to entertain viewers of films and partakers of virtual reality. After all, many media consumers like moviegoers and video game fans seek entertainment?
Soundtracking Virtual Worlds in Lawrence Lek’s Art
Lawrence Lek pays careful attention to detail. On top of the creation of a cinematic universe and accessible virtual realities that tell amazing stories of human-AI interaction, Lek soundtracks all his art installations himself, adding the title of musician to his lengthy resume and breathing even more life into his alternate realities.
From Temple OST, to Geomancer OST, to AIDOL OST, Lek’s original soundtracks for his films and simulations serve to further blur the line between real and digital. Full of eerily ambient mood music that just feels perfect for Lek’s works, his soundtracks heighten both the entertainment value and reality factor.
The work of Lawrence Lek seems futuristic and hyperbolic, and it arguably is exactly that, but he taps into specific aspects of society like rapidly developing sophisticated AI and its implications on the day to day aspects of human life that aren’t necessarily as far fetched as they might seem. Artificial intelligence technology has never been more advanced and closer to reaching the high status it begets in science fiction media than it is today.
Virtual reality is almost as commonplace as any other form of video game nowadays as well, and Lek’s use of it to draw attention to the growing power of AI implications is just one of many examples of why he is one of the foremost and most groundbreaking multimedia artists of our time.