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, combined with reference to the transformation of site or the reign of absolutism. Examples include an installation in which he stacked a column of 100 bricks up to the ceiling of an empty factory; and another in which he filled a hollow area of an abandoned building with methyl cellulose, forming an artificial water line that met with the surrounding floor. He creates a minimalist, atypical reality within everyday circumstances. His artwork has a site-specific quality, involving concepts of labour and consumption, and raises questions about art and its production, while also drawing on his 13 years of experience as a professional bricklayer.
Extending the tradition of self-reflexivity seen in conceptual art, Lai’s recent work responds to the contemporary art world’s reliance on display systems of self-reference in an exploration of minute perceptions. Such approaches are to be observed in works such as Artwork (2013), a sculpture that mirrors and forms its own pedestal, and Life-Size Drawing (2012), a painting action that hews close to reality, relying on a high investment of labour to trace the very texture of the exhibition venue. 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. Such inversions are also demonstrated in Border (2013), in which visitors edge along a narrow path suspended from the venue’s walls, above a centrepiece of discarded materials left behind by exhibition installers, taking to a stage in which one simultaneously observes and is observed.