NGAI Wing Lam: No Dreams Can Last Longer Than A Night 蟻穎琳《夢短夜長》
NGAI Wing Lam 蟻穎琳
21 October – 18 November, 2023
Gallery EXIT is pleased to present Ngai Wing Lam’s new solo exhibition ‘No Dreams Can Last Longer Than A Night’, on view from 21 October to 18 November 2023. An opening will be held on Saturday, 21 October at 2–5 pm. Ngai’s creative practice focuses on painting, and her style is influenced by Western landscape paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries, such as works by Caspar David Friedrich and John Constable. In recent years Ngai mostly works with oil applied directly onto wooden panels cut or framed into different shapes, and displayed in the form of storyboards divided by specially designed wooden frames. Using the wooden frames as dividers for storyboards, the artist establishes narrative perspectives, then posits two landscapes against each other. This device is inspired by mediaeval religious paintings, where the frame is a part of the pictorial content, which is filled with hidden symbols and allegories. Painting on surfaces of specific shapes and forms, the artist creates a sort of narrative sequence and overview; at the same time, frames of different shapes also serve a decorative function, forming a connection with domestic spatial settings.
Ngai is particularly attracted to the filmic narrative form of montage and is inspired by a wide range of films from around the world. Childhood playthings such as pop-up books, cardboard houses, paper dolls, toy furniture, old TVs also serve as references for the artist as narrative settings. In two paintings featured in this exhibition, handcrafted relief sculptures of mermen are set against a painted background, an imitation stage design and a new experiment of the artist in the last few years. The hand movements of crafting the mermen dolls, the speed with which the material dries up, remind the artist of doing handicraft as a child, when the act of recreating the mind’s image was most simple and direct, the thinking minimal and abstract. While this mode of production finds a parallel in her other job in wax figure restoration, the artist discerns a strong contrast between making three-dimensional sculptures and painting. In painting there is no limit to one’s imagination, even when one can get lost with too much freedom, or become too contrived due to an obsession with details. On the contrary, she tries to follow the most primitive and raw method when handcrafting sculptural works, allowing herself to create with the purest mind.
The ‘Dreamscape’ series is an extension of Ngai’s graduation work in 2008 at the Academy of Visual Arts, Baptist University. The 2008 series takes as its theme dream fragments that touch upon emotional relationships, nature, landscapes and dreams. The new works in this exhibition, on the other hand, illustrate various dreamscapes, wherein the object-symbol ‘bed’ constantly appears. In a dream the artist once had, a big squirrel occupied her bed. The image stays, inexplicable. For Ngai, the bed is a private space and a sanctuary for everyone. Investigating and piecing together fragments picked up between the worlds of dream and reality, the artist endeavours to edit them into a continuous narrative. She believes that dreams are the reflection of consciousness undisguised; once we wake up and try to recall them, they are modified and cannot be restored to their original form by our unreliable memory. Meaning can only be recreated through the act of piecing together fragments. The works are presented in pairs of storyboards, demonstrating two views of the same scene. They may be mutually incompatible parallel worlds, or storyboards of different time sequences in the same film.
Ngai has always worked and lived in Hong Kong. Although the works exhibited here surround dreamscapes divorced from reality and do not refer to any specific places in Hong Kong, for Ngai, her works are always set against the background of Hong Kong and places she frequents. Shek O Beach constitutes the backdrop for The Big Blue Blanket - “I found some shells.” and The Big Blue Blanket - “I found some knowledge.” The Failed/Expired/Invalid Love Story - Vega is too far away from Altair and The Failed/Expired/Invalid Love Story - Altair is too far away from Vega are set in the suburbs of Sai Kung. The artist, who lives in urban Hong Kong, takes to a simpler life observing the influence of nature on humans, the relationship between weather and all things. The changes in weather and the surrounding environment are also reflected in the choice of colour in the works.
The merman character that often appears in Ngai’s works is the artist’s signature motif. The merman in the paintings is actually a koi, a popular pet in Hong Kong, since ornamental fish can easily be kept in home aquariums in small living spaces. These mermen have no fixed identities. Like actors, they appear in different scenes in different roles. Situated in gaps and corners, they are observers between reality and dreams. The mermen with identical outlooks and expressions exhibit endless transformations and experience unpredictable life dramas. This new series of paintings depict the legend of The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl in modern times. The merman Altair (Cowherd) and mermaid Vega (Weaver Girl) appear in separate frames, each leading a different life. A time gap is apparent here: Since Altair and Vega are 16 light years apart, even if Altair moves at the speed of light, it will take him 16 years to reach Vega. Hence the annual reunion of the two lovers can never happen.