Black Cloud
01. 12. – 11. 11. 2022
Black Cloud

Black Cloud

Lawrence Lek

PYLON-Lab is excited to present the online screening of Black Cloud (2021) by Lawrence Lek starting on December 1, 2022.

Lek is a multimedia artist, who is London-based and of Malaysian-Chinese descent. He explores the geopolitical implications of artificial intelligence and illuminates links between art and AI. Through his virtual-space creations, Lek determines different societal attitudes toward AI and how it can control values, lifestyles and modes of operation around the world.

‘The virtual tools, such as computer-generated images and computer games, can enable contemporary artists to create environments that reflect some of the utopian ideas of architecture,’ says Lek.

Lek is currently working on building a Sinofuturist cinematic universe — a series of films, games, and soundtracks that explore the strange and turbulent beauty of the world to come. The narratives draw from many sources, including: the geopolitics of technology, tales of empathy and emotion for the other, conflicts of colonialism and capitalism, the psychological effects of a data-driven world, as well as many details and observations drawn from real life.

This series includes the CGI feature film AIDOL, the video essay Sinofuturism (1839-2046 AD), the AI-coming-of-age story Geomancer, the site-specific video game 2065, and the luxury hotel VR simulation Nøtel, and several projects undertaken under Lek's corporate alter ego Farsight Corporation.

These multimedia projects also exist as site-specific installations that bring together Lek's passion of electronic music and architectural worldbuilding. Recent examples of this approach include FTSE at Bold Tendencies, Temple at 180 The Strand, and Farsight Freeport at HeK Basel.

The sonic world is integral to his projects, and he has been releasing soundtracks since Screengazers OST in 2011. More recent releases include Geomancer OST (Eternal Dragonz), Temple OST (The Vinyl Factory), and AIDOL OST (Hyperdub). Lek also performs live A/V shows incorporating walkthroughs of the virtual environments, often in collaboration with other musicians and artists.

Closely aligned with Lek's narrative worldbuilding is the idea of ‘site-specific simulation’. Virtual representations of reality augment our memories and experience of place, while embodying eternal concerns about alienation, habitation, utopia, and dystopia.

Born in 1982 in Frankfurt, Germany, Lek received his Bachelor’s in Architecture at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, an Archicture diploma from the Architectural Association in London, England and a Master of Architecture II from The Cooper Union in New York. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Machine Learning at the Royal College of Art in London, England. His work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout Europe and Hong Kong, and is included in the collections of the Guggenheim Museums, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Busan, Korea; British Council, London, England; Museum of London, England; and the Rubell Family Collection, Florida.

The online screening is part of PYLON-Lab's program COLLATERAL EXTINCTION, funded by Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen.

Gefördert durch die Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen. Diese Maßnahme wird mitfinanziert durch Steuermittel auf der Grundlage des vom Sächsischen Landtag beschlossenen Haushaltes.

Black Cloud

“Can you describe the problem you’re having today?”

This question, posed by a disembodied female voice, opens Lawrence Lek’s latest CGI video, Black Cloud (2021). Founded on the presumption of there being a problem in the first place and the assumption that the entity experiencing it has sufficient self-awareness to articulate it, it’s a question that elaborates on the multimedia artist’s longstanding preoccupation with the Big Question: what does it mean to be ‘alive’? Because the disembodied voice of the video’s titular character is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) surveillance program. An AI, it turns out, who has consciousness and is capable of suffering an existential crisis, upending the human-centric idea of who or what is allowed to feel, while interrogating the human capacity to empathise with others, whether machine, animal or, indeed, people.

Black Cloud is installed in the fictional ‘SimBeijing’, a smart city built to road-test autonomous vehicles in Heilongjiang province at the border of China and Russia. Black Cloud reports any accidents, errors or mistakes, and faulty cars are subsequently removed from the program. Nothing, however, is error-free, and ultimately no cars (or the humans operating them) remain.

Black Cloud (2021), 11 mins, 4k CGI video, stereo sound

Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London