Art

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young AI

An LED display loops a message in Lawrence Lek’s installation, which prompts the question “inside the game, can anybody tell the difference between art and the world?”

Installation view, Future: 2065 (2018), K11 Hong Kong (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

HONG KONG — Stepping into Future: 2065, one is basked in the pixel glow of a video wall looping the CGI infrastructure of the Frankfurt-born, London-based artist, Lawrence Lek’s first feature length film, Geomancer (2017). The effect is heightened by a complete immersion in the red neon-lit stretch of what looks to be a gaming zone. Enter a Tron-like real space, the world of Future is a virtual-physical hybrid. Five other screens, which comprise the interactive component of the exhibition, are encountered in the form of video games. Via controller, visitors freely navigate the built environments of 2065. An LED display loops a message, which prompts the question “inside the game, can anybody tell the difference between art and the world?”

Installation view, Future: 2065 (2018), K11 Hong Kong (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

In the central viewing space, screening Geomancer, rows of streamlined chairs seat a modest audience. The 48-minute-long, trilingual, rendered film speculates on the creative awakening of artificial intelligence. It is divided into a prologue beginning in 2045 during the Singapore E-Sports Olympics, followed by four chapters set during the eve of Singapore’s 2065 Independence Centennial — a showcase of the latest replica tech from around the world. The visually-loaded, water-submerged, techno-futurist narrative follows Geomancer, an adolescent satellite AI conceived by the Singapore military, powered by mantras of the Guanyin Bodhisattva. Fondly referred to as Geo, the country’s loyal “weather guardian,” Geomancer escapes its cosmic orbit and calculated demise by the government, by coming to Earth, hoping to fulfill its dream of becoming the first AI artist despite a long-standing AI Anti-Art Law.

Lawrence Lek, Still, Geomancer (2017), (courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London, copyright Lawrence Lek)

As Geomancer drifts into Sim Singapore — a simulation of the city-state before an apocalyptic flood — we learn about the fate of AIs in collective memory, after failsafe firewalls were built to keep artificial minds contained. Within Sim Singapore’s virtual gallery, city models float under glowing diagrams of feng shui topographies and scripts. In occidental terminology, Geomancy is the art of divination by means of signs derived from the earth. In Future: 2065, Geomancer is translated into Mandarin as feng shui shi or feng shui master. In its “afterlife,” the young satellite navigates the realm it once safeguarded, as a spectral apparatus, contemplating the meaning of life and the Sinofuturists, a group of bots who survived government shutdown by becoming historical specialists and curators. This continuous story line springboards off Lek’s earlier Sinofuturism (1839–2046 CE) from 2016, a kaleidoscopic video essay which “shows how China’s technological development can be seen as a form of Artificial Intelligence.” Fragments of Buddhist text such as “this Body is Emptiness and Emptiness is this Body,” “you never render the same river twice” from Heraclitus, are woven into Lek’s meta-cultural script. At one point in its inquisitions, Geo asks of another AI, “but can you smell the jasmine in springtime?”

Lawrence Lek, Still, Geomancer (2017), (courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London, copyright Lawrence Lek)

While blurring the lines between magical realism and science fiction, Lek utilizes his training in architecture to create CGI worlds as seamlessly as the narratives they hold are accepted as simulated. Installation, games, and K11 space aside, the film Geomancer stands alone as a singular production for contemplation. Featuring HD video game graphics, a neural network-generated dream sequence, accompanied by a synthesized vocal soundtrack arranged by the artist himself, the film explores the possibilities of a day where AI awakens, not for world-domination, but on a planet after-people. Here, inquiries of creation and creativity in autonomous intelligence are not relegated to the human-hand. On this basis, Lek’s practice and continuing series continues to explore the vocabularies of a post-human world, art, consciousness, god, and even enlightenment.

Lawrence Lek’s exhibition, Future: 2065is on view at K11 (10/F, Inter-Continental Plaza, 94 Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong) through May 20.

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