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Phillip Lai

The thing of it, 2014

Tyre pieces, aluminium basin
25 x 35 x 35cm
About Phillip Lai
A large concrete cylinder heavily rests, the hint of soot brimming from the inner edges; a collection of kitchen pans tied loosely together by a coloured string hang against a pile of cloth; a commonplace plastic bowl unexpectedly appears on the wall, grains of rice resting at the base. Phillip Lai approaches objects in a manner that appeals to, and reflects on, their intrinsic existence and properties. Observing that in one’s daily encounters with ‘things’ there is both a physical projection and an assumptive perception, Lai creates scenarios that draw objects away from these two conditions towards a state of autonomy. Through careful, delicate compositions that place the object in plain sight, Lai creates moments that lull you into a line of thinking only to then flip that original thought and allow room for another. Intrinsic to Lai’s practice is the notion of getting to the heart of the object: what it is, how it is created, how it is perceived, what kind of value we’ve been tuned to assign to it. Through a systematic process of observation and identification Lai tends to extract the object from its societal context, a construction rooted on our impulse to categorise in order to understand and use. Consider for example ‘The thing of it’ (2014) composed of tyre strips arranged in an aluminium basin; each item is individually identifiable yet, in their collectively presented mode a form of sculptural abstraction is created, which lends a different classification and awarding of value. In a sense, one may draw a parallel with Jacques Derrida’s notion of ‘deconstruction’, which as described in ‘Of Grammatology’ and subsequently ‘Positions’ defies categorisation and the placement of hierarchy. Rather than distilling to a ‘truth’, Lai’s approach to the object is akin to the process of questioning, untangling our presumptions.