London's Art Spaces Turn "SimCity" With Virtual Reality Project

Lawrence Lek's "Bonus Levels" allows you to explore London's art scene like a digital flaneur.

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Mar 12 2014, 3:00pm

What if all of your city's most interesting art galleries, spaces, and collective hangouts were turned into a Sims-esque virtual reality kingdom? Would it inspire you to explore these creative spots through a nuanced lens, or would it make you curse the coder gurus who think physical art should be digitized?

Lawrence Lek, the London-based speculative sculptor and installation architect behind the project, is taking an optimistic, even utopian route with Bonus Levels, a two-part, virtual recreation of the galleries and artist-run spaces from London's Art Licks Weekend festival, as well as a digi-remake of the abandoned zone surrounding London's 2012 Olympic Park. The project originally premiered at the Victoria & Albert Museum, but now the whole piece is updated and available to download and explore online

It's a tour de force in prosthetic architecture that imagines the city as a place "constantly under construction," as Lek described it to The Creators Project.

In part one, Bonus Levels takes these various art spaces and stacks them into a 3D, video game-like tower comprised of twenty-one floors and twenty-one showrooms. Galleries like Schwartz Gallery, Asylum, and The New White Building appear as detailed renderings, including artists who've shown their work there, and the ability to zoom in on specific works.

Lek explained that "virtual galleries are a combination of reality and fantasy," but he beefed up the "reality" aspect by asking the artists who run the represented spaces to send him floor plans, from which he built 3D models using animation software and free game engines.

The artists also sent Lek pictures of work recently shown in each gallery, as well as a soundtrack for each spot. "I asked them think about what an 'ideal' situation would be like for their gallery." The result, according to the creator, is that Bonus Levels could be divorced from reality, and set in a dreamlike landscape. 

"Bonus Levels also collages together different parts of the city, just in a three-dimensional way," Lek continued. "The video game world allows the modern-day wanderer to see fragments of the city within alien landscapes, illuminated with permanent sunlight, or hidden in darkness." 

In other words, Bonus Levels allows visitors to become a digital flaneur—bolstering their scope of London's DIY art scene. Most of the IRL locations are spread apart from one another, and since the Olympic Park closed in 2012, much of the land between Stratford and Hackney Wick have closed for redevelopment. This virtual stacking encourages people all over the world to get one centralized look into London's vibrant, somewhat under-the-radar art scene, and simultaneously serves as a metaphor for knocking down the borders between public and private property. 

"I'm trying to evoke the spirit of London," says Lek. "In a game, physical locations aren't fixed—so why not bring all these places together? These are places where people put their energy and effort into creating work that moves people—so they should be celebrated, not marginalized."

Exploring Bonus Levels may not be the same as bouncing around Art Licks Weekend in the flesh, but for those interested in British art without spatial (or financial) limitations, Lek's project is a fascinating and cutting-edge investigation on how we might share and consume art in the future. "I hope eventually it will become a kind of collective memory of forgotten spaces in the city," he said. We hope so too. 

For more on the project see:

www.lawrencelek.com

www.bonuslevels.net (downloads from here)

@prosthetic

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