Lawrence Lek

Born 1982 in Frankfurt, Germany
Lives and works in London, England

White Bay Power Station

Nepenthe (Summer Palace Ruins Edition), 2022
multimedia installation: video 10 mins, game duration variable
Presentation at the 24th Biennale of Sydney was made possible with assistance from the British Council
Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ. Presented initially at QUAD, Derby, England

During the Second Opium War of 1860, the Old Summer Palace in Beijing was destroyed by a combined Anglo-French expeditionary force that looted the imperial collection and decimated the grounds once known as the Garden of Gardens.

Set within a sculptural neon replica of the gardens specifically the Grand Waterworks (Da Shui Fa), whose distinctive shapes evoke “the century of national humiliation” for millions, Lawrence Lek has created a digital version of the ruins. The countless objects and artworks stolen in the attack found their way to England and France as high-value commodities and included what is believed to have been the first Pekingese dog in England. The puppy was gifted to Queen Victoria and named, unironically, Looty. UNESCO estimated in 2006 that about 1.6 million Chinese relics were in the possession of 47 museums worldwide, including one million items from the Old Summer Palace alone.

Confronting the desolation of colonial conquest, Nepenthe (Summer Palace Ruins Edition) challenges this pillaging and points to its profound influence on Chinese history up to contemporary politics. Lek’s cinematic universe, Nepenthe, is home to several forgotten cultural monuments he has salvaged from disrepair to live forever in his imagined, virtual world. The work also has a playable video-game element that employs first-person perspective, popular in role-playing games, and which Lek perceives as mimicking the patterns of colonial exploration.

Lawrence Lek 陆明龙 is a filmmaker, musician, and artist who unifies diverse practices—architecture, gaming, video, music and fiction—into a continuously expanding cinematic universe. Over the last decade, Lek has incorporated vernacular media of his generation, such as video games and computer-generated animation, into site-specific installations and digital environments which he describes as ‘three-dimensional collages of found objects and situations.’ Often featuring interlocking narratives and the recurring figure of the wanderer, his work explores the myth of technological progress in an age of artificial intelligence and social change.

Read more about the 24th Biennale of Sydney, Ten Thousand Suns, by purchasing the catalogue here.