Farsight Freeport

5 September - 10 November 2019

Solo Exhibition at HEK Basel, Switzerland

“Welcome to Farsight Freeport, the smart museum of the future! Launching in 2029, our integrated architectural prototype demonstrates how discerning connoisseurs can exchange, store, and exhibit their digital art collections. For our demo showroom in Basel, we feature a selection of early media artworks by Farsight CEO and founder Lu Ming Long, created years before he pivoted from a career in content production to trend forecasting.

We understand how difficult it is for collectors to maximise public engagement while maintaining security and curatorial integrity. To this end, our patented Server/Servant Surveillance System (SSSS) employs physical and psychological barriers to keep your precious artworks safe from accidental damage and unauthorised replication.”

- Farsight CEO Statement

Farsight Freeport

INTRODUCTION

ARTIST NOTES ON HYPERSTITION

For his exhibition in Switzerland, Lawrence Lek imagines a future retrospective of his work as presented by Farsight Corporation, his technology start-up dedicated to Late 2017: Invited by BT to start a conversation. My idea is to do a long-term project... launch a fictional creative AI company in 2018 (that I'll use as my studio) and then in 2019, create an installation at Bold Tendencies AS IF the company has become a very successful AI architecture firm, that got so successful that they bought over the site and turned it into a FinTech(financial technology) incubator. The installation 'FTSE' (Farsight Stock Exchange, a play on the FTSE 'Financial Times Stock Exchange') imagines that Peckham becomes the new Wall Street of South London.

Farsight actually first appeared in my 2017 film 'Geomancer', which is set in the year 2065, about a superintelligent satellite who comes down to Singapore with the dream of becoming the world's first AI artist. In that fictional scenario, Farsight is the world's leading AI megacorporation, spanning the entire military-industrial and home entertainment complex (like Mitsubishi, or Huawei, or Samsung today). Geomancer is set around fifty years in the future, which is distant enough for it to seem like pure fantasy.

But afterwards, I had a thought. What if I took Farsight seriously? Taking it like the idea of a 'hyperstition' - a superstition whose very conception brings about its future existence, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I had talked about many times with my friend and collaborator Kode9 AKA Steve Goodman, musician, artist, and formerly of the philosophical 'thinktank' CCRU. Now, I thought of launching the company as a real private limited company, registered at Companies House in England, in the year 2018? After all, according to Chinese superstition, it has an auspicious date. 1/8/2018. That would also coincide with the dates when Bold Tendencies was open, over the summer.

So, at Bold Tendencies 2018, I made a trailer to announce the launch of the company, which was displayed on an outdoor LED wall on the roof of Bold Tendencies, between The Derek Jarman Garden and Richard Wentworth's sculpture 'Agora'. There were issues because LED walls are very bright at night, and so would present problems for the drivers of passing trains. So we angled it on the rooftop (by one of the lift and stair lobbies) so it would be visible for people on the roof but not so much from surrounding buildings or train tracks. The rooftop video was silent, but I also produced a version for online and screenings with sound.

There was a launch event for 'Farsight Corporation' at Bold Tendencies on 1, August 2018 in the auditorium, with a screening programme containing several works in the series: starting with the Farsight Launch Trailer (made 2018, set in 2018), then an extract of the video essay 'Sinofuturism (1839-2046 AD) (made 2016, set between 1839 and 2046), then the CGI fantasy 'Geomancer' (made 2017, set in 2065), and concluding with a7-minute recorded google chat conversation with ICA film curator Steven Cairns.

For Bold Tendencies 2019, I made a site-specific simulation and installation. As mentioned above, 'FTSE' (the Farsight Stock Exchange) imagines the Bold Tendencies Site in Peckham being bought over by the company itself, and turned into a 'pound' shaped luxury skyscraper for incubating financial services. The idea is that in a post-Brexit, pro-cryptocurrency, hyper-capitalist era, the UK government loosens restrictions on all forms of investment in order to bolster the failing economy. Peckham, like other areas of London, becomes rife with property and financial speculation to promote this agenda.

This is a playful take on discussions on gentrification and property. When I was studying architecture, what nobody told you was that even in a best-case scenario, you'd be building luxury buildings that neither you nor your friends could actually afford to live in. So, I created a speculative thought experiment (what's known in fiction writing as a 'counterfactual' (Cambridge English Dictionary: 'a mental simulation where you think about something that happened, and then imagine an alternate ending').

In collaboration with Singapore-based architect and artist Finbarr Fallon, I developed plans for the '£' shaped, 300m tall building (taller than the Shard in London Bridge). Why a '£' shape? I was thinking of an idea by architectural theorists Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. The idea of architecture being either a 'duck' or a 'decorated shed'. What they meant was that buildings are either fancy boxes, like the Parthenon, or a 'duck' - a building shaped to be a symbol of itself, visible from a distance, like a roadside refreshment store shaped like a duck, or a burger stand shaped like a hamburger.

The Bold Tendencies team and I thought about where the installation could go, and we felt that the lift lobby at the top of the stairs, before exiting out on to the open-air rooftop, would be the right kind of place to 'announce' the new(thankfully so far) fictional direction for the Peckham Multi-storey car park. Again, I thought: Where would a real-estate agent set up their stall to promote their new skyscraper? How might they want it to stand out from the concrete architecture? The logic of the installation followed. I thought like a promotional agent. Have billboards outside with 3D renders of the building. Make a thirteen-screen mega-screen, with the surfaces tiled together to form a'£' sign, put a plush carpet and beanbags on the floor so people want to stay. Attract passing foot traffic to play the video game, and make blind financial speculation acceptable by making it appear fun.

Inside the room, some of the screens are interactive playable games. Two single-screen landscape games, and one triple-screen portrait game in the centre. Each has a different starting point, but is within the same game 'world'. I worked with composer and sound designer Seth Scott to do the soundtrack for both the Farsight launch trailer, and for the video game. The soundscape was directed inwards, playing from each computer.

In the open-world game, made with the video game engine 'Unreal Engine' (I had worked using this since 2017), where the player navigates from different starting points of FTSE. There are various locations to discover. With designer/architect Robin Simpson, we also developed ideas of where players could explore and hide, and 'easter eggs' to discover, hidden in the depths of the car park. Hidden within are the Farsight CEO's work suite (I put a family picture on the desk), trailers for my 2019 film AIDOL (which also features Farsight) and Sinofuturism, and, of course, the Farsight Launch trailer from 2018.

TRAILER

Installation views at HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel)

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