Ultra Unreal opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

MCA-Lawrence-Lek-Geomancer-2017-installation-view-Ultra-UnrealFeaturing the works of six artists and collectives whose worldbuilding practices are connected to nightlife ecosystems across the globe, Ultra Unreal has opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA).

Club Ate (Sydney), Korakrit Arunanondchai and Alex Gvojic (Bangkok & New York), Lawrence Lek (London), Lu Yang (Shanghai), and Saeborg (Tokyo) create worlds that blend myth and reality, simulating more-than-human futures, evolving belief systems and fluid frameworks of being.

Curated by MCA Australia Curator Anna Davis, the Ultra Unreal exhibition reflects on the relevance of mythmaking today and its role in navigating complex realities and creating new worlds.

Drawing inspiration from Ning Ken’s theory of the ultra-unreal, it examines how mythologies can be used to reveal hidden histories and reorientate visions of the future.

Influences from religion, neuroscience, ecology, artificial intelligence, myth, gaming, and queer club cultures collide in this multi-sensory exhibition that ricochets between a dizzying array of stimuli.

The fantastical worlds created by these artists in Ultra Unreal are grounded in personal experience and politics. Populated by hybrid creatures and genderfluid beings, their worlds are spread across physical and virtual spaces at the MCA.

“The artists and collectives in Ultra Unreal ask questions about belief and technology, empathy and consciousness,” said MCA Curator Anna Davis. “In our complex present, thinking critically about the worlds we want to create and inhabit is more important than ever before.”

Works by Saeborg and Club Ate have emerged from the politics of the dancefloor. Drawing on the vitalities and histories of underground and LGBTQIA+ club communities and pulsing with late-night energy, their practices have been influenced by dance and club culture.

Works by Arunanondchai and Gvojic, Lek, and Lu explore concepts of Sinofuturism, gender, reincarnation, animism, empathy and non-human consciousness.

Exhibition highlights include:

Club Ate’s new video, sound and textile installation Ang Idol Ko / You are My Idol (2022) draws on Filipinx mythologies and club cultures to evoke queer, trans and animist idols for today.

The installation combines ancestral figures from the Buwaya (crocodile) and Kinnari (bird) mythologies, and draws on historical accounts of the Babaylan; queer and trans shamans in the Philippines who act as intermediaries between visible and invisible worlds.

The brightly rural world in Saeborg’s installation Slaughterhouse (2021-22) masks a darker commentary on gender roles and stereotypes in Japan.

Using the role of livestock as an analogy for society’s treatment and expectations of women, Saeborg aims to highlight issues of gender-based power and control in human and nonhuman lives. Slaughterhouse  began as a series of costumes and performances for the Tokyo nightclub Department H.

Lu Yang creates virtual environments to contemplate the nature of consciousness, suffering, death, and rebirth. ‘I imagine my worlds to be open-ended, non-binary and multi-dimensional’ says Lu, whose digital worlds are populated with genderless avatars.

Lu has been working on his latest avatar DOKU for several years. In this new series of works, DOKU appears in six different environments, each representing one of the six realms of rebirth and existence in Buddhist cosmology.

Exhibited for the first time in Australia, No history in a room filled with people with funny names 5 (2018) is from a series of works Korakrit Arunanondchai has been developing for the past decade.

This fifth episode examines unseen forces shaping our reality,a nd relationships between humans and more-than-human beings in the context of contemporary Thai mythology’.

Made in collaboration with Alex Gvojic, the immersive installation features Tosh Basco as the Naga, a recurring character inspired by a mythical serpent and anarchic spirit that can take human form.

Named after a fictional drug for forgetting sorrow in ancient Greek mythology, Lawrence Lek’s series Nepenthe explores connections between memory, virtual worlds, and environments geared towards healing.

Nepenthe AR is a new augmented reality (AR) project commissioned by the MCA Australia that invites visitors to discover a series of restorative worlds on each level of the Museum.

Nepenthe AR was inspired by the phenomenon known as the ‘doorway effect’; when people forget why they have walked into a room as they enter it.

Ultra Unreal
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), George Street, The Rocks (Sydney)
Exhibition continues to 2 October 2022
Free entry

For more information, visit: www.mca.com.au for details.

Image: Lawrence Lek, Geomancer, 2017, installation view, Ultra Unreal, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2022, single-channel video, HD, colour, sound, image courtesy and © the artist – photograph by Anna Kucera