RA Schools Show 2023: Louis Morlæ

Published 5 June 2023

During the pandemic, Louis Morlæ taught himself how to make a virtual world from scratch and created a nightclub as an antidote to an infectious world.

  • From the Summer 2023 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    For Louis Morlæ, it all began with measuring his foot. Confined to working at his kitchen table in the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, he took stock of his body, designing surrogate parts using 3D-modelling software. “I made a kind of component for my foot just as an idea, to create an object that I could, in part, live vicariously through.” His shin followed, and then his thigh. By the time students were allowed to re-enter the workshops at the Schools, he had modelled a full cyborg-ish figure (Alpha, 2020). “As soon as the studios opened, I started 3D-printing the parts as quickly as I could.”

    Restrictions returned, and Morlæ was back on his laptop at his kitchen table. “I hadn’t really found the escape I was looking for. I had my design files for the figures, but I didn’t have the sculptures themselves with me to work with, so I taught myself to animate digitally, to give the figures an opportunity to feel alive.”

  • Louis Morlæ, Alpha

    Louis Morlæ, Alpha, 2022.

    Photo: Theo Cristelis/Courtesy Rose Easton.

  • Put like this, it sounds almost straightforward. But the task Morlæ set himself transpires to be one of quixotic ambition. On his computer for up to 16 hours a day for close to a year, he taught himself to make a virtual world from scratch, shaping its dimensions and layering it with texture and detail and movement – all proxies, he says, “for the sensations I craved.” He chose specifically to focus on making a nightclub, “trying to get close to the hot, sweaty, dirty spaces I didn’t know when I’d feel safe in again.”

    The nightclub that grew out of that first impulse is modelled on nowhere specific – “one of the best things about the digital space is it can be anywhere” – but playfully recalls the techno clubs of the Kreuzberg district in Berlin (for the purposes of this article, he has inserted his own image into its virtual surrounds). “It became this place to escape to, where I could spend time figuring things out, like how to convey the feeling of not getting let in, that anxiety of the approach, the queue.” In Morlæ’s rendition, his protagonist enters via a snaking tunnel, a bid to emulate, he says, “that elongated satisfaction of getting in.”

  • Louis Morlæ at his simulated nightclub

    Louis Morlæ at his simulated nightclub

    Photo: Kemka Ajoku/Courtesy the Royal Academy of Arts, London

  • His nightclub built – a kind of gesamtkunstwerk or total work of art for the digital age – Morlæ then made a 22-minute film plotted within its bounds. “You open the files, move the figures around, and set a camera and an angle.” The result, cut to a score made with a collaborator, conveys the ebb and flow of a long night out, “the crescendos and low moments,” as he puts it. The film was then exhibited alongside the sculptures the project began with.

    Morlæ plans to present an animated film for his final show, though “it’s about something more lofty than getting trashed in a club,” he laughs. Does he ever open up the files and go back to his club? “Yeah, it’s all still there. It was such an involved process making it, I feel a kind of affinity to those spaces. Like going back to a house you once lived in.”

    Imogen Greenhalgh is Deputy Editor of RA Magazine.

    RA Schools Show 2023 is at the Royal Academy of Arts from 8 June - 25 June 2023.

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