Lawrence Lek (1982) is an artist working in London who, over the past few years, has frenetically imagined and created a body of new work that expands across computer simulation, performance, sculpture and interactive installations. In this conversation Lawrence discusses Bonus Levels, a growing ‘virtual novel’, and in particular episode VI, Sky Line, which was originally made available to explore at The White Building, London in Oct 2014, and is available here.
Doggerland - Sky Line could be read as both utopian and dystopian. On the one hand, it is post-apocalyptic, as London’s skyline has succumbed to either rising sea levels or a mega-tsunami of the sort. The first person protagonist of the virtual environment appears to be the only survivor, the train is driverless and passenger-less and the art venues unpopulated. On the other hand, Sky Line is in equilibrium; everything continues to operate without the need for intervention. The landscape is familiar to both sci-fi literature and film and adventure-based video games, blurring prehistoric references with architectural icons and artist led spaces of current day. Can you speak both of the utopian/dystopian distinction, if there is one, and how the representation of time might influence this.
Lawrence Lek - Utopia is a paradox. Of course, it’s always an eternal fascination with society – a less religious and more political way of saying ‘Paradise’. Thomas More, who wrote the eponymous book, was both a god-fearing Catholic and a politician, and so was very aware of the physical impossibility of heaven-on-earth. This irony is evident in the wordplay title of the book itself (eu-topia meaning 'good place’ and u-topia meaning 'no-place’). Similarly, Sky Line can be read as both utopian and dystopian, but it’s an artwork – not a political treatise – so I think interpretation should be up to the viewer.
The fact that Sky Line exists on a permanent loop distinguishes it from linear views of time. The day-night cycle lasts for ten minutes – the same amount of time it takes for the train to loop around once. This repetition stands in contrast to linear views of time, one followed by literature, film, adventure-based video games, and Judeo-Christianity. An important premise of Christianity is that we are heading towards the eschaton – the last judgement, the end of time – an apocalypse which is unavoidable and inevitable.
I’m more drawn towards the idea of the eternal return, in which the universe exists through cyclical narratives which are bound to repeat themselves. However, it is shared by Buddhist cosmology, the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, and was studied extensively by anthropologist Mircea Eliade. This view of time is less common because it’s less immediately perceptible. In effect, Sky Line uses a train and the weather to create a simulation of cyclical time.
DL - Considering time again, the work is partly responsive to a temporary moment in artistic output and presentation in London, during the Artlicks weekend. However, the galleries and exhibition programmes here are ‘memorialised’, though subverted, and made permanently accessible to users as an environment that is not transitory. Can you comment on how your work might be read as an alternative archive, and contextually underpinned by prevailing modes of visual practice by the people living and working as artists now.
LL - I find it useful to zoom out and think of London as a biologist might look at an ecosystem. If you visualise all of the places where art is being made in the city, and the evolution of this creative map over the past hundred years, it would form an animated pattern similar to the life of a jungle ecosystem. In other words, artists (and their respective galleries) grow up all the time, cluster together in relatively uninhabited locations (often after industry closes), and gradually migrate to other areas. Of course, it’s all driven by the property market and shifts in the economics of art making. It’s all so ephemeral.
Sky Line (and the original skyscraper for Bonus Levels) are snapshots of a small portion of these artist-run spaces. Often, they’ve just moved into their current location, or about to move out, or they don’t know how long they can stay. So by gathering them together in a single (virtual) location, the projects do function as a kind of three-dimensional archive, an immaterial form of memory.
Also, the other artists’ artworks are videos, sound, images, text. These are all put together in the video game environment as a kind of spatial collage. Simulation is, at a fundamental level, a medium that integrates others.