Interview with Lawrence Lek

Lawrence Lek is a multimedia artist born in Frankfurt. He studied Architecture at Trinity College, Cambridge and the Architectural Association, London. He then went on to study Fine Art at The Cooper Union, New York. This year Lek has been awarded the Performance As Process residency with The Delfina Foundation and is winner of the Dazed Emerging Artist Award 2015.

DC - Congratulations on recently winning the Dazed Emerging Artists Award. What made you want to produce Unreal Estate?

LL - Thank you. I wanted to continue my on-going Bonus Levels project, a series of virtual worlds that both celebrate and critique reality. Bonus Levels is like a personal Art World: a universe where all the architecture within it is an artwork. Each model is distorted from reality creating a semi-fictitious place, which is either utopian or dystopian depending on the context. When thinking about what to produce for the Dazed exhibition the first thing that came to my mind was to create an alternate version of the exhibition place itself, The Royal Academy.

DC - What comments does the artwork make on the Royal Academy as an arts institution?

LL - The RA is probably the UK's most established fine art institution and is housed in an incredibly luxurious building in Piccadilly. I thought of a scenario that would comment on how precarious and uncertain its financial existence actually is: just like the average Londoner. So I rendered a simulation of it, as if it had been sold off as a private house to a Chinese Billionaire. The galleries became living rooms, everything has high security, and so on. It's the same building, but an entirely different space.

DC - You work across many different disciplines including architecture, sculpture and video. Is there one discipline that you feel more of an affinity with than others?

LL - I call myself, jokingly, a 'Simulateur' (as in: auteur + simulation). Simulation, a synthetic medium, allows you to collage together a world in time and space. For me, the installation, exhibition or video exist only as a fragment to the larger 'object' (the speculative sculpture) that cannot be reduced to a single mode of representation.

I'm interested in bringing site-specific artworks into the virtual realm. How do qualities that used to be the exclusive domain of land art, or architecture, get transferred into simulations? In digital space, the idea of 'place' is completely arbitrary, and the viewer only knows where they are by recognising symbols or locations from the real world.

DC - You recently launched the music album Continental Drift on the website and online exhibition space Channel Normal. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?

LL - Continental Drift (OST) is the first official soundtrack for Bonus Levels, but actually, the album is a really old project – Overseas, the opener, dates way back to 2009. Working with music, there are always half-finished things that stay in my head. Over the past few years I've focused on visual art, but my background in music goes back much further. Still, I always keep recording - usually it ends up as some ambient music in a video or installation.

DC - What inspires you?

LL - I draw most of my inspiration from literature and music, arts that have no visual representation intrinsically linked to them. The vision occurs in the mind's eye in literature. I'm most interested in the idea of the flaneur, or wanderer, encountering existential landscapes and urban zones that make them think about the underlying structure of reality. In the poems of Li Bai, Basho, or Baudelaire, the physical environment triggers memories on an immediate, visceral level. Whether the work is set in an urban or natural environment, all of the symbols operate on a metaphorical level, which enables the reader to create their own associations between place and experience.

With music, I often compose it myself or it's made in collaboration with other musicians (for example, with cellist/composer Oliver Coates for Unreal Estate). It's the real-time engagement that the listener has with music that I'm interested in; music depends on memory of the recent past for its melodic or harmonic effect. What note just played? What is coming next? What am I hearing now? This awareness of time is what I'm most interested in.

DC - What projects have you got coming up?

LL - I'm taking part in group shows at Assembly Point and the Wysing Arts Centre in September. I’m also showing work at Cubitt in October. There's a few projects under development for next year, but I can't say too much about those just yet. Suffice to say I'm looking forward to taking the idea of speculative architecture even further.