SARAH LAI, Endless Rotation, 2011, GIF video. Courtesy Gallery Exit, Hong Kong.

SARAH LAI, Double Exit, 2011, oil on canvas, wood, 84 × 60.5 × 7.5 cm. Courtesy Gallery Exit, Hong Kong.

Click arrow to view reverse side of Double Exit.

Safety Island

Sarah Lai

Gallery EXIT
Hong Kong
Emerging artist Sarah Lai displayed five new paintings and an animation in “Safety Island,” her recent solo show at Gallery EXIT. Like well-known Hong Kong artists such as Lee Kit, who reinterprets mundane situations, Lai focuses on domesticity and everyday significance; hazy paintings of ordinary objects in cool dreamlike colors comprise the bulk of her practice. Though painting is often dismissed as staid nowadays compared to installation, sculpture and video practices, for example, Lai has begun to explore alternative methods of display, which test and expand the limits of her chosen medium.

In her Endless Rotation (2011), Lai converted a series of eight paintings depicting a pale blue car speeding around a roundabout into a computer-based GIF format animation, displayed on a small flat-screen monitor. The paintings are sequenced into a choppy animation, in which the trees, road signs and atmospheric haze shift constantly while the car dizzily circles the roundabout. Lai explains that she chose the GIF format because, unlike traditional video, it is able to store short clips that play in an infinite loop.

Near Endless Rotation (2011), Lai installed the series of eight paintings that comprise the animation’s frames. Hung in a row, they allowed the audience to see details that one is unable to examine from the GIF loop, such as the hazy fog in the foreground and the greenery in the background. Their serenity and stillness was a welcome contrast from the blinking animation.

Lai experiments with painting installations in Double Exit (2011), which consists of two oil paintings, hung on either side of a wood panel that is fixed perpendicular to the wall, unexpectedly protruding into the gallery space. Fittingly, each side depicts a dark green exit door, a statement referring both to Gallery EXIT and a Tom Stoppard quote: “Every exit is an entrance somewhere else.” The work’s position in front of the actual entryway was especially thoughtful, giving Double Exit new meaning as an installation.

Though Lai has had a relatively short career, she quickly gained renown through her skilled swimming pool oil paintings, one of which was nominated for the Sovereign Art Prize in 2010. However, the pieces displayed in “Safety Island” reflect a significant change in subject matter and means of display. Her innovative experiments add spontaneity to a traditional and oftentimes predictable medium, while the seemingly random subjects of her work—such as an endlessly rotating car—also invite humor into the somber white-cube gallery space.