In Contaminant, Figures Spencer Lai presents a new series of felt relief sculptures, a video work, sculptural assemblage, and a recent collaboration with artist Jessie Kiely. Since graduating in 2014, Lai has situated their practice in public, private, and artist-run initiatives; their emergence and repertoires of presentation within these spaces broadly tracing the dissemination of consumerism and it’s affect on a consumer’s consciousness in the contemporary. Their work frequently consists of sculpture, video and animation, installation, writing and performance. Their new exhibition Contaminant, Figures at Fort Delta, focuses on processes of craft and sculptural assemblage in historic and contemporary contexts and considers the collectors, hobbyists, and makers which cultural histories classify as ‘outsiders’ to be an act of violence upon the figure. Lai’s interpretation of and for this violence addresses how the severities of civilization play out in static retrospect and how they now continue to advance through technology, real and not-real exploitations of the body, and both the violence and banality stemming from and accelerated by narcissism and self-imaging, opening a discussion for how such impulses influence an anthropology of our times.
A new suite of monochromatic felt-relief sculptures of highly saturated colours occupy the exhibition’s wall spaces and allude to educational dioramas used to communicate big historical narratives to classroom-comprehensions. First appearing bright and flat in portrait and landscape formats they soon reveal silhouettes and narratives when approached closer and become privy to Lai’s frequent use of irreverent humour; shifting into shadow puppet plays of deception. One felt-relief depicts two figures holding another figure down on ‘The Rack’ a medieval torture device used to punish the likes of traitors, thieves and those deemed unfit for society, or unorthodox, plucking a victims limbs right out of their sockets. Another piece, a replica of Pierre Klossowski’s Les Barres Parallels depicts a figure – also seemingly shackled up to a medieval torture device-turned-crucifix contraption with a high-heeled shoe being placed on their foot by a crouched figure, with an accomplice. Others reinterpret historic paintings made by deemed ‘outsiders’ who experienced hardship as living figures in Lai’s new suite of felt-reliefs. A Flemish painting of the 1500’s by David Vinck Boons depicts an innkeeper and his wife driving out a family on to the street. One other references outsider artist from the collection of psychiatrist-come-art-philanthropist Hanz Prinzhorn, a patient and artist by the name of Gustav Sievers, who was executed as part of the Nazi’s eugenics programme exterminating psychiatric patients, is striking red in colour and reinterprets his painting Untitled [Dance] where figures in a ballroom dance together; the artists distinct and eccentric shapes he attributed to the figure hover and operate as a kind of removed simulation. Disguised in appearance, Lai’s new suite of felt-reliefs situate present and historic contexts as misinterpretations where processes of erasure and the artist’s interpretation of violence plays out against the figure in banal and extreme scenarios.
A new video work features ripped YouTube footage of Betty Boop merchandise and marks a new approach to Lai’s past interests in addressing themes of identity and consumerism through the moving image, having previously been explored in the domain of animation as a suspended reality. The video’s content, filmed on a smart phone, is a meandering and wobbly barrage of Betty Boop merchandise contained by museum-like displays and altogether feels exploitative and inescapable. Ridiculous and outrageous in temperament as an everyday account of consumer frenzy, the new video speaks equally about the voyeurism such environments supply and demand and also about loveable and charismatic characters of idealised and voluptuous proportions, attainable only by cartoon characters who are conceived at the mercy and by the hand of their maker. The new video and the actual content Lai has selected for it surfaces the contemporary consumer as an image and figure-obsessed menace unto itself by way of the narcissism hand-held technologies perpetuate amongst a chaotic vortex of consumerism and mimicry.
Spencer Lai graduated from The Victorian College of the Arts in 2014. They are the co-founder of the collaborative project Monica’s Gallery with LA-based artist Jake Swinson. Forthcoming exhibitions include presenting with Fort Delta at the Spring1883 art fair in Sydney, September 6 – 9, 2017. Recent exhibitions and projects include: AFFADAVIT VITO ACCONCI a group exhibition at Gertrude Glasshouse, curated by Brooke Babington, Melbourne, 2016; mummy has the bends again... a delegated performance as Monica's Gallery with garments by Jessie Kiely at The Community, Paris, 2016; A Really Good Look - a contribution for TarraWarra Biennial 2016: Endless Circulation enacting as Monica’s Gallery with Jessie Kiely in collaboration with 3ply and Centre for Style, Melbourne, 2016; tell me what you have and I will tell you what you are, a group exhibition and publication as Monica’s Gallery, curated by Dissect Journal, Melbourne, 2016; presenting with Fort Delta at the Spring 1883 art fair, Hotel Windsor, Melbourne, 2016; WORLD INDUSTRIES, a curatorial project Monica’s Gallery with Jessie Kiely at Punk Café (2015); youth, born at brunch (from a wish), a solo exhibition at George Paton Gallery (2015); Monica’s Gallery Presents: The Artist Interprets HIGHPOINT,a curatorial project as Monica’s Gallery at Fort Delta (2014); the smell of an oily rag, a group exhibition at Fort Delta (2015); do you want me to come downstairs, with rollers in my hair?, an exhibition with Jake Swinson at BLINDSIDE (2014).