Hong Kong

Lawrence Lek, 2065 Game, 2018, open-world video game, sound.

Lawrence Lek, 2065 Game, 2018, open-world video game, sound.

Lawrence Lek

Chi K11 Art Space

Lawrence Lek, 2065 Game, 2018, open-world video game, sound.

In the belly of Hong Kong’s mass-transit railway system, along the underground walkway connecting the East Tsim Sha Tsui and the Tsim Sha Tsui lines, is Chi K11 Art Space, in the basement of the K11 Hong Kong Art Mall, where Lawrence Lek’s exhibition “2065” took place. Viewable through the glass panes that separate this project space from the transit walkways, the show was modeled after a gaming parlor and assembled in a low-lit, red-carpeted space. Here, a suite of high-definition, computer-generated-image (CGI) videos and five playable open-world video-game simulations—old-school consoles connected to flat-screen TVs—presented a narrative that the artist introduced in the video 2065, 2018, shown on a screen installed in the exhibition’s corridor entrance, which effectively set the scene. The year is 2065, the centennial of Singapore’s independence, and the world has developed a functional reliance on artificial intelligence, as managed by a corporation called Farsight; humans no longer have to work, and e-sports has become a fast-growing industry. At the end of the corridor was 2065 Game, 2018, a playable simulation that allowed viewers to tour a virtual island world, based on Singapore and Hong Kong, via a portal that leads to five destinations, including a flooded Marina Bay Sands casino and a rendering of this very exhibition. Turning a corner from here, one saw Farsight’s neon logo installed on a long wall facing the windows that look out to the mass-transit walkway. Two separate screens nearby featured “promotional videos” for Farsight and PlayWorktm, the latter articulating a future of PlayStation-powered “Funemployment, forever.” (LET'S GET TO PLAY WORK™ reads one subtitle.)

In this future scenario, a group of AI bots, set to always let their human opponents win every e-game they play, collectively decide to break free of their programmed bonds, choosing to become artists. They have been inspired by the Sinofuturists, in a reference to Lek’s video essay Sinofuturism (1839–2046 AD), 2016, which, as Lek put it, “shows how China’s technological development can be seen as a form of artificial intelligence.” This narrative backdrop derives from another of Lek’s previous works, the forty-eight-minute film Geomancer, 2017, the story of the first AI artist—a satellite that came to earth and became changed by reading the Sinofuturist manifesto. Sinofuturism was available to view on a CGI screen that remained dark until activated by a player—one of many throughout the various worlds, from the casino to the museum, located within the game—as were a number of other videos: short clips including scenes from Geomancer, or another describing Sinofuturist curators as “a cult” of ex-AI shopping bots that survived “Deep Blue Monday” by becoming “historical specialists.”

The narratives overlapping and unfolding through time and space in 2065 seem anchored by a moment in Geomancer, when the “world’s first AI artist” explains how, with only the mind’s eye, all that it was able to do was to build worlds. This world-building approach resonated throughout the environments that met in this exhibition, from the real to the virtual, given that they were created by Lek, an artist who is embedded as both the programmer and the programmed in the scenario that “2065” drew out. Such future visions did not seem remote in the underground context in which this exhibition was staged: an engineered environment that felt just as rendered, and indeed gamified, as the simulations in this show.

Stephanie Bailey