Delicate interventions in space and the landscape – a pulled thread, a hole gathering droplets of water, a tree emerging from the walls. Lai Chih-Sheng (b. 1971, Taiwan) pursues a practice that plays with tension, the everyday and personal encounters across multiple mediums in particular installation and sculpture. There is a playful minimalism in the way he observes detail and creates relationships between different parts of a room, engaging the viewer’s sense of body and presence. During the 1990s Lai Chih-Sheng was a member of the conceptual art group National Oxygen, presenting his early work in disused structures around the periphery of Taipei, which often involved seemingly futile labour. As such, there are certain pervading traits throughout his work: an affinity to environment and space, a sense of expanse, a lyrical delicacy that engages our curiosity.
Interested in self-reflexivity and how it applies to the tradition of conceptual art, Lai Chih-Sheng engages with a practice that is aware of its own ‘artificiality’ or absurdity. He consciously creates atypical realities within everyday circumstances that have a site-specific quality. In line with this consciousness of absurdity or atypicality, he explores minute perceptions. Lai Chih-Sheng also draws on his personal experience of working for 13 years as a professional bricklayer, using this as a foundation to comment on labour and consumption. As such, Lai strives to remove all vestiges of self-expression from his work, even going so far as transferring the responsibility for its completion onto his audience or the workers who install the exhibition.
Consider, for example, ‘Drifting Sandbar’ (2018) presented at the 2nd Great Taipei Biennial of Contemporary Art. A range of metallic cords stretch and string across the room, creating interventions in the space that at once delicately fill it but also make its emptiness all the more palpable. A raised plank of the same glossy grey colour as the floor acts as the anchor for the strings and a portal for visitors to walk down and engage. This act of tracing space also appears, albeit in a different way, in the earlier work ‘Life-Size Drawing’ (2012) presented at the Hayward Gallery, London in which single lines were drawn around the architecture of the space – delicate outlines, linear in form, but comparatively invisible to the naked eye. A drawing or painting action that relied heavily on labour, there is a pointing to futility while also honouring the textures of space.
Further interventions include Border (2013), recreated and presented at the Lyon Biennial in 2015 and Aichi in 2016, in which visitors edge along a narrow path suspended from the venue’s walls above a centerpiece of discarded materials left behind by exhibition installers. Taking to a stage in which one simultaneously observes and is observed, the mind is engaged as one is conscious of the generated waste but equally our bodies respond to the tight elevated walkway one has been granted by comparison to the below expanse of detritus. A sense of space and distortion is equally achieved in ‘Scene’ (2015) in which the ceiling is lowered so it hovers right above visitors heads, as if entering a darkened yet luminous cave.
Ultimately, Lai Chih-Sheng prompts us to pay that little more attention to our surroundings, to what we contribute and how, engaging with our contexts, the peculiarities of space and the present. Through his subtle and delicate interventions and alterations, he points to the correlation between magnanimity and impact, demonstrating the weight and value of the subtle and minimal.
Lai Chih-Sheng has exhibited internationally. His recent solo exhibitions include: Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei (2020); Kirishima Open-Air Museum, Kagoshima (2019); and Observations Society, Guangzhou (2018). Recent group exhibitions include: Aichi Triennale (2016), Lyon Biennial (2015), OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen (2014) and Hayward Gallery (2012).