New exhibitions in QUAD, Derby, explore Virtual Worlds

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New exhibitions in QUAD, Derby, explore Virtual Worlds
Lawrence Lek Nepenthe (Summer Palace Ruins). Photo: David Severn.

DERBY.- 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.  

QUAD Extra Gallery Spaces - 19 November 2022 to 5 February 2023 - Ashley Holmes We Came The Long Way, And I Thought You Knew

We Came The Long Way, And I Thought You Knew is the presentation of a recently made body of work by Ashley Holmes that will be displayed across QUAD’s Extra Gallery Spaces. This collection of sound sketches, works on paper and sculptural objects draws on his ongoing research into music from Jamaica and the African Diaspora. 

In this exhibition, Holmes’ will explore the ways Black music provides a framework to understand and re-imagine alternative knowledge systems and conceptions of space and place. The exhibition takes its title from the lyrics of The Long Way, a song released in 1976 by popular Reggae musician Junior Byles - a homage to and continuation of Holmes’ fascination into the role of performer and songwriter as orator.  

At varying points throughout the connecting stairwells and mezzanines in QUAD, Holmes will install audio and visual references to Dub music and the sonic metaphor of the abyss, as a means of conjuring up interpretations of the integral role experiments with distance, scale, and silence play within the genre. This is intended to explore collective memory in an attempt to contemplate the disconnect between metaphysical genealogy and a way of being British, and of Caribbean heritage. 

Ashley Holmes We Came The Long Way, And I Thought You Knew is on display in QUAD Extra Gallery Spaces 19 November 2022 – 5 February 2023. The exhibition can be viewed daily 10am – 9pm. 

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.

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