27 October 2023 — 14 January 2024
Kranzler Eck, Joachimsthaler Straße 7, 10623 Berlin
Lawrence Lek’s largest exhibition to date explores a near-future scenario shaped by the integration of artificial intelligence in urban life
NOX is an expansive exhibition that imagines the psychological consequences of a future populated by smart systems and intelligent machines. Across three floors, it invites audiences into a facility where Farsight Corporation, a fictional artificial intelligence (AI) conglomerate, trains and treats their sentient self-driving cars. Each class of vehicle serves a different role, such as delivery, patrol or pleasure, and has a corresponding personality type. When their cars begin to demonstrate undesirable behaviour, Farsight summons them to the centre — titled NOX, short for ‘Nonhuman Excellence’ — to undergo a five-day rehabilitation programme.
Merging physical, digital and sonic realms
Artist Lawrence Lek developed NOX as a work of speculative fiction. He drew on current factors surrounding the integration of AI into urban life, such as increased automation and surveillance, and projected them into a near-future scenario. In the exhibition, Lek evokes this world using a combination of locative sound, computer-animated video, installation and game design. Its general atmosphere is rooted in the origin of the word nox — Latin for ‘night’. Ambient music, voiceover fragments and nighttime lighting give the smart city setting the mood of film noir, a genre characterised by dark, dreamlike qualities. The entire installation reflects how characters in film noir are on a search for meaning, gradually piecing together memories and clues to make sense of the tumultuous world around them. Similarly, visitors’ movement through various scenes in the exhibition generates a narrative soundscape of voice logs and poetic passages. These messages are the traces left behind by Enigma-76, one of Farsight’s wayward cars, and Guanyin, an AI therapy bot, recorded during their journey through NOX’s programme.
Lek’s cinematic storytelling incorporates design elements from video games, including branching narratives and easter eggs — bonus content hidden within the virtual world. By thoroughly exploring the space, visitors may uncover deeper layers of NOX’s world and characters. On the top floor, a video game takes the form of an interactive training simulation for Farsight employees. The simulation allows audiences to try treating different car behaviours using various techniques. Each decision players make impacts the storyline, and may lead to outcomes already encountered in the exhibition journey.
Reflecting on human-AI relationships
NOX explores the advanced role of AI within highly controlled automation systems. Lek situates this enquiry within longer histories of transportation, urban infrastructure, and human and AI psychology. He highlights society’s complex and evolving relationship with non-human entities — such as animals and AI — and the ways in which they are trained to serve human and corporate interests. The exhibition encourages reflection on questions of agency, ethics, consciousness and empathy between humans and the machines they make.
Lawrence Lek is an artist, filmmaker and musician 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 social change.
Commissioned by LAS Art Foundation
Lawrence Lek Team
Organised For LAS by