19th Nov - 05th Feb

Lawrence Lek: Nepenthe (Summer Palace Ruins)

QUAD is delighted that we will be bringing the work of Lawrence Lek to QUAD Gallery this autumn. Lawrence is one of the most lauded artists working in the UK today. Working across the fields of film, music, and video games, he explores worldbuilding as a form of collage, incorporating elements from the material, sonic and virtual worlds to develop narratives of alternate histories and speculative futures.

Click here to visit Lawrence’s website.

Lawrence Lek presents ‘Nepenthe (Summer Palace Ruins Edition)’, an architectural installation and video game revolving around the ruins of Beijing’s Old Summer Palace. This installation is part of his ongoing open-world game ‘Nepenthe’, which is set on a mysterious island named after the fictional medicine for sorrow from Greek mythology.

The project continues Lek’s exploration of video games as a cinematic medium, particularly the first-person perspective often employed in adventure-RPGs (role-playing games), which he uses to draw parallels between open-world game mechanics and patterns of colonial exploration.

For his exhibition at QUAD, Lawrence has created a new physical installation and game map based on the ruin of Da Shui Fa – the waterworks at Beijing’s Old Summer Palace. Widely regarded as the ‘Garden of Gardens’ and the pinnacle of classical Chinese garden palace design, the Old Summer Palace was destroyed by a combined Anglo-French expeditionary force during the Second Opium War in 1860.

Within the installation is a playable version of the game, where the ruin has been brought into a virtual museum on an island for further preservation. Built in the Unreal video game engine and featuring an electronic music score by the artist, the game is accompanied by a walkthrough short film that imagines a lone traveller stumbling across the island and encountering the ghosts of past civilisations within glowing ruins and pristine architecture.

As with his previous open-world games such as 2065 and Nøtel, Lek expands the virtual environment of Nepenthe with each new exhibition. The game was previously featured at the 2021 Ljubljana Biennale of Graphic Arts, the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in London, and at the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, South Korea. Architecture from these past exhibition sites also feature as ‘ruined’ environments within the game itself.

Lawrence Lek 陆明龙 is a London-based artist, filmmaker, and musician working with video game engines, simulation, and architecture. He explores worldbuilding – the crafting of holistic fictional worlds – as a form of collage, incorporating elements from both material and virtual sources to develop narratives of alternate histories and possible futures. Often featuring the stories of wanderers, aliens, and ghosts, his worlds examine themes of memory and identity, utopia and ruin, control and agency.

In his ongoing fictional universe, begun in 2016 with his seminal video essay Sinofuturism (1839–2046 AD), Lek explores how the complex interplay between geopolitics and technology shapes a vision of the coming world that conflates China and its diaspora with artificial intelligence. In this and other works, the artist imagines how agency may be restored to the Other: a satellite in Geomancer (2017) wishes to become an artist, while AIDOL (2019) centers on the relationship between a fading pop star and an aspiring AI songwriter. Blurring geographical borders and the delineation between natural and artificial beings, Lek leads viewers to confront contradictions that humanity might face in the near future.

Lek composes soundtracks and conducts live audio-visual mixes of his films, often incorporating his open-world games in performances at Goldsmiths CCA, London (2022), ICA, London (2019), and KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2016), among others.. Soundtrack releases include Temple OST (The Vinyl Factory, 2020) and AIDOL OST (Hyperdub, 2020).

Solo exhibitions include Post-Sinofuturism, Ziwu the Bund, Shanghai (2022); Ghostwriter, CCA Prague (2019); Farsight Freeport, HeK, Basel (2019); Nøtel, UKR, Essen (2019); AIDOL, Sadie Coles HQ, London (2019); and 2065, K11, Hong Kong (2018). He studied at the University of Cambridge, the Architectural Association, London, and The Cooper Union, New York, and holds a PhD from the Royal College of Art. In 2021, he received the LACMA Art + Technology Lab Grant and the 4th VH Award Grand Prix for new media artists. Lek is represented by Sadie Coles HQ, London.

Image Credit: Nepenthe (2021), Lawrence Lek. Image credit: Damian Griffiths


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