The 4th  VH AWARD

Lawrence Lek, Black Cloud, Film Still, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.

Lawrence Lek, Black Cloud, Film Still, 2021.

Image courtesy of the artist.

About the Works

The VH AWARD started out as a means of offering support to Korean media artists as they  expand the potential of the audiovisual art scene. Now, the VH AWARD has opened to all Asia...

The VH AWARD started out as a means of offering support to Korean media artists as they  expand the potential of the audiovisual art scene. Now, the VH AWARD has opened to all Asian artists working in audiovisual formats who are engaged with the context of Asia and its futures. This year’s five shortlisted finalists—who all received $25,000 for production—came together for a virtual residency at New York City’s non-profit Eyebeam, where they worked on the projects proposed in their VH AWARD applications with mentors including multidisciplinary media artist American Artist; pioneering media curator Barbara London; and coder, poet and artist Zach Lieberman.

Working throughout the past year from his London studio, the 4th  VH AWARD Grand Prix winner Lawrence Lek describes his practice as worldbuilding. Lek studied architecture before becoming an artist, developing a way of thinking about how we create and move through physical space that has evolved into the ways he now considers the digital realm. Working with video game software and CGI animation, Lek merges real places with virtual worlds to look at how humans interact with AI and how digital images alter our experiences in the real world. Lek’s VH AWARD project, Black Cloud (2021), is a video piece that follows a conversation between an AI system designed to surveil a city that has been abandoned and an unidentified voice that is part therapist, part spiritual guide. The voice offers cryptic advice in a lolling soft monotone, sharing biblical stories and contradictory observations about AI itself in what feels like a reflection of Lek’s own ambivalence about AI and its role in our lives.

Lek’s Black Cloud is viewable online, and was presented alongside the work of all five of the VH AWARD finalists to fellow artists, curators, gallerists and critics as part of the virtual ceremony, which took place on November 10, 2021 and included private digital screening rooms for each artist and an NFT treasure hunt.

The VH AWARD finalists’ practices vary widely in media, concept, and content—but are all rooted in deep personal commitments and concerns for their environments. Doreen Chan, who was born in Hong Kong and now lives in Chicago, brings Carl Jung’s collective unconscious theory to life. Chan built the platform, through which she invites people to share their incomplete dreams. Chan then matches strangers based on the connections in their dreams, believing that something within the subconscious can help us see and remember the ways we are similar when external and political forces seem intent on manifesting division. As the sentences appear on the screen in Chan’s video work HalfDream (2021), there is an immediate sense of recognition—dreams of rushing, losing things, being in foreign places, alienated from oneself, or simply not oneself are perhaps more universal than we acknowledge.

Indonesian artist Syaura Qotrunadha, meanwhile, takes her early childhood relationship to water as the starting point of her video project Fluidity of Future Machines (2021), which shares the reflections of an elderly man considering his relationship to water. The narrator begins with a reminder that our bodies are more than 65 percent water, talking us through the relationships between the smallest cells in our bodies and the earth’s ocean water. The visuals of Qotrunadha’s video recall the experience of looking through a microscope, suggesting that the insights of our elders may help us see what is invisible, but right before us. Initially the images appear to be of foreign matter, outside of our bodies, but in watching Fluidity of Future Machines, one realizes that they are also looking, in a way, at themselves.

Paribartana Mohanty grew up in the coastal East Indian state of Odisha and now lives in Delhi, but remains driven by the ecological concerns of his home region. For his VH AWARD project, Mohanty traveled more than 10,000 kilometers of the Indian coast to witness and document the effects of natural disasters including cyclones and tsunamis. His video, Rice Hunger Sorrow (2021), follows two protagonists to the ocean and forest, asking continually, “who is the mightiest?” The answer, though never spoken, is perhaps best left as a reflection on our own lack of might in the face of mother nature.

Seoul artist Jungwon Seo’s We Maketh God (2021) considers what sort of art an AI may create. Shot in black and white and slowed to stretch each moment into suspense, the video brings the drama of the Renaissance into the present, creating a space to contemplate the history we are living and making each day. The effect is subtle, yet powerful. Seo makes viewers aware that while we may not feel the significance of our actions—both collective and individual—they will reverberate in unpredictable ways for years, possibly centuries, to come.

Across the practice of all of the finalists for the 4th VH AWARD is the realization that so much of how humanity evolves to live alongside the new technologies we are building is yet to be decided.

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