Lawrence Lek

LAS Art Foundation presents NOX, Lawrence Lek’s largest and most ambitious exhibition to date in Germany. Inhabiting a former department store in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district from October 27, 2023 to January 14, 2024, NOX is the first project combining all strands of Lek’s multidisciplinary practice — sound, installation, game design and video — at an architectural scale.

The expansive exhibition invites visitors to explore an anonymous smart city where the fictional AI conglomerate, Farsight Corporation, tests and trains their range of sentient self-driving cars. The commission forms the latest chapter in Lek’s Sinofuturist cinematic universe, which probes the problems and promises of AI in an age of automation. Delving into the advanced integration of AI entities in urban life, NOX prompts reflection on questions of agency, ethics and empathy between humans and the machines they make.

Conceived as a work of speculative fiction, Lek’s world imagines the psychological consequences of a future populated by smart systems and intelligent nonhumans. In this scenario, NOX, or ‘Nonhuman Excellence’, refers to a corporate psychological programme created to treat undesirable behaviour in automated vehicles. While some self-driving cars question their designated role in society, others resist their future obsolescence or simply want to drive.

The installation leads visitors through different scenes from this fictional universe, accompanied by an evolving soundscape of ambient music and voiceover fragments from the cars and their AI therapy chat- bot. Entering the nocturnal cityscape at the site of a crash, a sequence of architectural ‘zones’ provides the structure for Lek’s open world where the cars’ memories, training experiences and relationships with their parent company are explored. NOX culminates with an interactive video game, inviting the public to play the role of Farsight employees tasked with training – and emotionally treating – wayward vehicles. Through simulation exercises, players are able to explore the limits of the cars’ agency as they play through multiple scenarios, some of which they may have already encountered in their journey through the exhibition.

Through a combination of cinematic storytelling and branching narratives, Lek highlights society’s complex and evolving relationship with nonhuman entities, and the ways in which our fates and fortunes are intertwined.

Lawrence Lek: “I am thrilled to combine music, gaming and architecture for the first time on this scale in Berlin. NOX is a project about technological life, and it is also a nocturnal journey into the unknown. There is a sense of awakening that comes only at night. Through the exhibition, I want to evoke an image of the AI as an archetypal wanderer, simultaneously seeking to understand and discover the world.”

Bettina Kames (Director of LAS): “LAS is proud to be working with Lawrence Lek on this ambitious new project in Berlin. NOX is an engaging exploration of the future of AI-human relationships. The artist’s unique method of worldbuilding through space, sound and simulation will prompt us all to consider the agency of the machines with which we already coexist. These questions are central to our mission at LAS, where we commission ground-breaking work across the fields of art, science and technology. I look forward to seeing how audiences inhabit Lek’s fictional universe, and to the conversations that it will spark about the integration of AI in our daily life.”

Lawrence Lek is an artist, filmmaker and musician working in the fields of virtual reality and simulation. He explores worldbuilding as a form of multi-dimensional collage that can incorporate elements from both material and virtual worlds. His work develops narratives that reflect on alternate histories and possible futures. Previous chapters of his Sinofuturist cinematic universe include the CGI feature film AIDOL (2019), the open-world game series 2065 (2018-ongoing), the AI-coming-of-age story Geomancer (2017) and the video essay Sinofuturism (1839-2046 AD) (2016).

Recent solo exhibitions include QUAD, Derby (2022–3); ZiWU The Bund, Shanghai (2022); HEK House of Electronic Arts, Basel (2019); arebyte, London (2018); and K11 art space, Hong Kong (2018). Lek lives and works in London.

NOX | Lawrence Lek

27 October 2023 - 14 January 2024

Kranzler Eck

Kurfürstendamm 22

10719 Berlin