Conversation: Lawrence Lek talks Sinofuturism, automation, identity, and communism

Interview by Iris Lang

Artwork by Elisabeth Siegal.

“The problem with any stereotype is there’s a lot of truth in it. I’m a Chinese guy making video games as art, what is nerdier than that?”

What’s important for me with Sinofuturism is simply that nothing about it existed before. What I’ve seen, in Asia as well, is this increased interest in learning about culture and the humanities, as opposed to sciences and professions over the years. And that means many more art institutions — I mean you get NYU in China, Yale in Singapore. And of course the academics who are a part of these institutions, with the best possible intentions, also can teach views of Asia — they don’t want to, but what happens is they end up reflecting back Asia, to Asians, through the eyes of someone not from Asia. And of course, that’s always been the case. I mean, even if we go back to Orientalism in the 20th century — that became hugely unfashionable of course, but if you look at early chinoiserie stuff in Paris or whatever, there really were these people who were just interested in Asia because it was different, and of course that became this ethnic othering, exoticism kind of thing and took on negative connotations. But at the end of the day, it’s like, I like listening to music from Marley for example, because it’s interesting and a human made it and I like listening to it, what’s the bloody problem with that?

“But America is a particular case of that, where I feel like I’ve never been identified as a ‘Chinese artist’, thank God probably, you know?”

IL: It’s very one-dimensional, like it’s all we ever talk about.

“You can kind of run away and as long as you don’t stick your head out, you’ll also survive.”

IL: Moving onto a different piece of your work, in Unreal Estate, you created an alternative version of the Royal Academy where its fate had fallen into the hands of a Chinese billionaire. Why specifically a Chinese billionaire, and do you envision China itself leading a ‘new world order’ in the future whether that’s technologically, economically, or politically?

“Sinofuturism isn’t about liberation, it’s simply that your life will improve, and you will survive.”

It’s also about taking things that are very culturally inherent and completely strong, and thinking about which of them are just inherited and no longer useful, for example, your appendix or whatever — like communism, right? Like many political theories, it’s beautiful in intention and in theory, but because it has to be executed by individuals, it’s hugely flawed — because people are not all the same, they should have equal rights but not equal rewards. For example in terms of left-wingness in the UK, I find it really problematic as well. You see all of this Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party in disarray and it’s exactly the kind of case where they might have very strong values and they go down to coal mines and they cut trees down or whatever, but their work is just like everyone else’s. The paradox of human existence is that when people work really hard, you dream of like a free life where you’re just eating strawberries, but in reality, when it happens it’s difficult.

“Is what you’re doing of use?” …“Of course what I’m doing is of use, because culture will only be of more importance in the years to come.”

And then there’s also the notion that probably your great-great-great-great grandparents would think it’s quite cool if you’re like studying in the UK and you have freedom. It’s also this notion of time, which is very different and of course, it’s a very traditional ancestral thing to think about — your family but also the people who came before you. But I feel that it’s like how religion gave way to science — when that happened, individuals and society lost a lot of psychological support networks that they used [to] have like the promise of an afterlife and all this shit about how heaven is great.



sinθ is an international print-based creative arts magazine made by and for the sino diaspora. values include creative expression, connection, and empowerment.

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Sine Theta Magazine

sinθ is an international print-based creative arts magazine made by and for the sino diaspora. values include creative expression, connection, and empowerment.