MAY 2019

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MAY 2019 Issue

Lawrence Lek: AIDOL 爱道

Lawrence Lek, AIDOL, 2019. HD video, stereo sound, 85 min. © Lawrence Lek. Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.

On View
Sadie Coles HQ
April 18 – May 18, 2019

Each of Lawrence Lek’s 3D-rendered animations builds the cosmology of his peculiar universe. Begun in 2013, Lek’s ongoing nine-part series “Bonus Levels” transports familiar London cultural sites into eerie virtual psycho-geographies, set in ambiguous, speculative proxy-worlds where the laws of physics lapse. In Unreal Estate (2015), for example, the Royal Academy of Arts has become the private estate of an anonymous Chinese billionaire, furnished with a helipad and a nightmarish, animate Jeff Koons rabbit. In Dalston, Mon Amour (2015), the trendy east-side neighborhood’s pubs, poolhalls, and Rio Cinema have been devastated by an unnamed apocalyptic event, as a first-person perspective guides the viewer through the ruined byproducts of millennial gentrification. Manifesting his architectural training as well as an interest in the visual aesthetic of role-playing video games, Lek’s computerized fantasies elicit the spirit of free-roaming gameplay with the comprehensiveness of a technical illustration.

The artist’s latest suite of feature-length films (2016–ongoing) contains narrative-driven, interweaving storylines, each exploring Western exoticizations of China’s economic rise, and set against a backdrop of the futuristic mythos surrounding artificial intelligence. In the films, Sinofuturism, Geomancer, 2065, and AIDOL—now on display at Sadie Coles HQ—a monolithic Chinese corporation of Lek’s invention, “Farsight Corporation,” maintains complete control over civilization’s rapidly-maturating ubiquitous AI devices. Geomancer—an intelligent satellite first introduced in its own eponymous film—aspires to become Earth’s first AI artist after reading a manifesto penned by the mysterious tribe known as the Sinofuturists. In AIDOL, the satellite is enlisted by a pop singer in the twilight phase of a once-flourishing career, “Diva,” who must stage a dramatic comeback performance during the halftime show at the upcoming eSports Olympics.

Lawrence Lek, AIDOL, 2019. HD video, stereo sound, 85 min. © Lawrence Lek. Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.

With AIDOL, Lek explores the importation of algorithmic automation into the products of the culture industry. Steering us through a CGI landscape of monumental Chinese temples, retro-futuristic humanoid robots, and otherworldly cosmic jungles, the adventure is accentuated by a greatest-hits soundtrack of Diva’s singles, all scored by Lek himself. Each of Diva’s songs adheres to the pre-programmed dictates observed by all popular music arrangements—the restrictions of the verse-chorus-verse format, the strident protocols of melodic and harmonic progression, the necessity for mass lyrical appeal—yet these norms are exacerbated in order for Lek to transcend them, evoking the impassioned emptiness characterizing contemporary cults of celebrity. As Geomancer states, “Beware of your fans, Diva. One day they need you, the next day they’ll delete you.”

At the film’s climax, Diva’s performance precipitates a profound philosophical and existential battle between humanity and AI, as Farsight’s usurpation of Diva’s creative production by Geomancer’s superintelligent automation reaches a crescendo. Here, the ontological fissure separating the singer from her digital-technological environment dissolves, as technology becomes situated within the construction of the human itself. The result is a conceptually lush science fiction, a timely pastiche in which the cyborgian imaginary, exaggerated Orientalist reveries, and the poetics of gaming culture cohere into an intensely compelling psychodrama.


Michael Eby

MICHAEL EBY is a writer and researcher on contemporary art and digital culture. He currently lives in London.


MAY 2019

All Issues