Major exhibition Ultra Unreal opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

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Major exhibition Ultra Unreal opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Lu Yang, Animal (still), 2021, single channel digital animation, HD, colour, sound, image courtesy the artist and COMA, Sydney © the artist.

SYDNEY.- Ultra Unreal features the works of six artists and collectives whose worldbuilding practices are connected to nightlife ecosystems across the globe; Club Ate (Sydney), Korakrit Arunanondchai and Alex Gvojic (Bangkok & New York), Lawrence Lek (London), Lu Yang (Shanghai), and Saeborg (Tokyo). Curated by MCA Curator Anna Davis, the exhibition includes immersive installations, digital environments, costumes, sets and inflatables, alongside performances, film screenings and artist-led events.

Ultra Unreal 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, the exhibition examines how mythologies can be used to reveal hidden histories and reorientate visions of the future.

In this multi-sensory exhibition, influences from religion, neuroscience, ecology, artificial intelligence, myth, gaming, and queer club cultures collide. Ricocheting between a dizzying array of stimuli, the fantastical worlds these artists create 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 which visitors will be invited to discover.

MCA Curator Anna Davis says, “There is radical potential in imagining new worlds. The artists and collectives in Ultra Unreal ask questions about belief and technology, empathy and consciousness. 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 LGBTQI+ 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.

Ultra Unreal will open with a weekend of artists’ live events. On Friday 22 July, there will be a club-inspired night of performances, music, and screenings throughout the Museum. On Saturday 23 July the MCA will be activated by live performances, gaming demonstrations and augmented reality walkthroughs.

The Artists


Inspired by their Filipinx heritage and shared connection to Sydney’s queer performance and nightclub scene, Sydney-based artists Bhenji Ra and Justin Shoulder formed Club Ate in 2014 to collapse boundaries between “art, club, community, dance, and politics”. The Club Ate collective is building a fictional universe that expands on Filipinx mythology to create new narratives of motherhood and sisterhood. Working across video, performance, sculpture, costume, installation, and club events, they invoke ancestral beings and landscapes to ask the question “In the face of an uncertain future, how do we, as queer communities of colour, cultivate hope and create possibility?”


Korakrit Arunanondchai’s art practice interweaves performance, painting, video, sculpture, and installation to create an expanding cosmology that he has been building for more than ten years. Based in storytelling and ritual, his work explores the interconnectedness of things, remixing personal, spiritual, and historical tales to imagine new relationships between beings and knowledge systems across time. His sprawling video epic Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names (2012–) now in its fifth iteration, is made from a growing archive of materials the artist revisits for each new chapter. Arunanondchai has several long-term collaborators on these projects including artist and cinematographer Alex Gvojic, and the performer Tosh Basco, formerly known as boychild, who appears as the Naga, a recurring character inspired by a mythological serpent in the Buddhist tradition.


London-based artist and musician, Lawrence Lek draws on his background in architecture, using gaming software and computer-generated imagery (CGI) to create artificial worlds. Lek’s worlds are populated with dreamers—from sentient weather satellites that dream of being artists, to fading AI popstars that dream of being famous again, all of them searching for autonomy, meaning and connection in a future dominated by data and the algorithmic analysis of human behaviour. Lek is currently developing a Sinofuturist cinematic universe, a series of films, installations, games, and soundtracks that explore tales of geopolitics and technology, and "the strange and turbulent beauty of the world to come".


Shanghai-based artist Lu Yang has an ongoing fascination with mind-bending technologies and the neuro-physiological basis of consciousness. He has collaborated with scientists, psychologists, music producers, designers, robotics companies and pop stars to create his kaleidoscopic work, which incorporates a growing range of media including 3D-animations, games, dance, motion capture, fashion, performance, painting and sprawling installations of printed murals and LED displays. Merging Buddhist thought and iconography, pop culture, neuroscience and biology in his work, Lu tackles questions of life, death and rebirth, asking viewers to contemplate whether “consciousness can be manufactured and sustained beyond the life of the individual.” His DOKU series is named after the phrase Dokusho Dokushi meaning “we are born alone, and we die alone”, and features a digital reincarnation of Lu Yang in a parallel universe.


Tokyo-based artist Saeborg describes themselves as “an imperfect cyborg – half human, half toy”. Their work emerged out of the queer club scene in Tokyo, each piece beginning as a costume for Department-H, a nightclub and fetish party that has been running in the city since the early 1990s. Saeborg creates inflatable worlds of latex, nightmarish and cute configurations that are stages for huge toy-like creatures to perform mythical fables of life and death. Saeborg’s aim in making these works, is “to transcend gender” and to move beyond the restrictions of human bodies to escape strict gender roles in Japanese culture. Using livestock and insects as analogies for society’s expectations and treatment of women, Saeborg creates worlds that are inhabited by creatures that “humans consider the basest of our ecosystem”.

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