With his genius dystopian virtual simulation, artist Lawrence Lek has won the Converse x Dazed Emerging Artists Award 2015. Last night at the opening of the epic exhibition that features all of our finalists’ work, our judges reconvened to pick the winner of the £5,000 prize. After a heated debate, our judging panel – Royal Academy artistic programmes director Tim Marlow, gallerist Javier Peres, artists José Parlá and Steven Claydon, Glasgow International director Sarah McCrory and Dazed’s visual arts editor Francesca Gavin – named Lek as their 2015 winner.
Lek’s artwork Unreal Estate uses video game software to imagine a future in which the Royal Academy of Arts has been sold off as a privately owned luxury estate. A helicopter sits on the penthouse helipad, a swimming pool glistens and glitzy furniture adorns the grand galleries – his first-person video game reconfigures the RA as a giant playground for the super-rich. It’s a chilling vision inspired by London’s housing crisis and the fact that the RA itself is on a rental contract. Lek told us, “It’s a real honour to win the award. I’m glad I could make a work that celebrates the fact that Royal Academy is a place for art rather than a place for commerce.”
The exhibition of new work by art’s next generation is open for visitors from Saturday. With all our finalists at the forefront of experimental practice, this show of fresh faces reshapes the contemporary landscape. Alongside Lawrence Lek, the exhibition features Jonathan Trayte’s TheShopper’s Guide, a crazed array of sculpted organic produce seductively displayed; Patrick Cole’s Ruin, an absurdist satirical performance inside a medieval castle; collaborative duo Tasmin Snow and Sarah Tynan’s MULTIFAITH, a sculptural investigation of the bare ubiquitous design of the multi-faith room; and Rachel Pimm’s India Rubber, tracing the journey of rubber tree clones from tiny seeds to the soles of our shoes.
Designed to support emerging artists at the moment they need it most, the competition was open by free application to unrepresented artists of all disciplines not currently in education. Each of the brilliant finalists received £1,000 to create new work for the show. The award has propelled the careers of previous winners and finalists including Faye Green (winner 2013), Samara Scott (winner 2012) and Richard Parry (winner 2011) all of whom have gone on to build international reputations.