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 from The Victorian College of the Arts 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 agasint the figure. Lai’s interpretation of and for this violence addresses how the severities of civilization play out in static retrospect and advance through self-imaging technologies, the contemporary figure's relationship and agency with real and not-real devices of exploitation, and how the figure observes, performs, and exists as an actual spectator within an anthropology of violence.
A new suite of monochromatic felt-relief sculptures highly saturated with colour occupy the exhibition’s wall spaces and allude to educational dioramas often employed 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 and unexpected humour; operating as 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 to function in society; plucking a victims limbs right out of their sockets. Another piece, a replica of Pierre Klossowski’s Les Barres Parallels depicts a shackled figure having a high-heeled shoe forced on their foot by a crouched figure and his accomplice. Others reinterpret historic paintings by artists who as living figures were deemed 'outsiders' and erase as much as they reinforce observations of violence. A Fithteenth-Century painting by David Vinckboons depicts an innkeeper and his wife driving out a family on to the street. One other references the work of Gustav Sievers, who was executed as part of the Nazi’s eugenics programme which exterimnated psychiatric patients. Lai re-presents Sievers work Untitled [Dance] of figures in a ballroom dancing together in pure and screaming red.
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 and 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 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 also features the inside of a sewer drain, an online video tutorial for how to tune a grandfather clock, and footage of Betty Boop clocks that all re-animate her eyes cautiously looking from side-to-side; a non-real character, idol, and figure appearing aware and freightened of the tick-tocking present.
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).