Unreal Estate uses video game software to imagine a future in which the Royal Academy of Arts in London has been sold to a Chinese billionaire as a luxury private mansion. A first-person perspective tour through their new abode is accompanied by a voiceover – translated from the Russian edition of high-society Tatler magazine into Mandarin – about how to hire and fire an 'army of household staff'.
Drawing from the language of high-definition property marketing videos, the project presents a critical look at the capital's current housing crisis. The Royal Academy is itself on a rental contract from the government, and this fact shows the precarious status of even the nation's oldest and most revered art establishment. This is an uncannily familiar virtual world where a major cultural institution has been appropriated into commercial real estate.
Even the heritage architecture and art collections of the Royal Academy are marketed as private property. The courtyard now contains a Jeff Koons bunny; wallpaper by Yayoi Kusama lines the walls of the private galleries; grand receptions are converted into double-height bedrooms with jacuzzis; security is extremely tight with laser alarms, CCTV, and encrypted wireless networks. Helicopters never stop hovering over the estate.
The work forms Chapter 9 of Lawrence Lek's ongoing Bonus Levels project, a series of utopian/dystopian virtual worlds based on real places.
Created for Dazed Emerging Artist Award
April 18 – May 17 2015
Royal Academy of Arts
6 Burlington Gardens