The work of Kara Chin is a tremendous mismatch of sculpture, design and animation
The Singaporean-British artist's work sends you right back to the days spent playing The Sims, just as much as it reminds you of the contents in your kitchen cupboard.
- Ayla Angelos
- 13 April 2021
It’s commonplace to leave university without a plan in mind, not knowing exactly what direction to take or career path to travel. Kara Chin, a Singapore-born and UK-based artist felt exactly that after graduating from a BA at Slade, London. Transferring from painting to sculpture in her third year, she’d dabbled in a variety of mediums and wasn’t quite sure what to do next. “But,” she tells It’s Nice That, “I won the Woon Prize, so my answer was pretty much handed to me on a big platter.” This specific prize is a fully-funded, year-long residency with a studio held in Northumbria University, plus a solo show at Gallery North towards the end, inciting the artist to move to Newcastle.
Many more opportunities later, Kara was part of New Contemporaries upon graduating, and she was also involved in a show and two art fairs with IMT Gallery. It doesn’t quite stop there either; she’s also held a few workshops for kids – one of which was through the New Contemporaries at South London Gallery and the other Northumbria University – and she also received a travel scholarship through Slade, enabling her to travel for a two-month trip to Japan in 2019. Then, after her solo show at Gallery North, she was approached by two more galleries DKUK and Baltic39. “Then Covid-19 hit,” she adds, “and despite initial fears about losing my jobs and access to my studio, it’s really worked out okay for me. I started doing freelance animation and I was working on a digital show for Offsite Projects (Blue Screen of Death) anyway, so sitting at my computer all day was already on the cards.”
Another key moment for Kara was during the end of the first lockdown, when Vitrine gallery approached her for representation. Together, they’ve worked on a recently closed show entitled You Will Knead, during which Kara exhibited works themed on the notion of lockdown. “The conception, production and exhibition all occurred throughout progressive lockdowns, so it was hard to think about anything else really,” she notes. “I was thinking about various coping strategies, going on walks and looking through windows; the uptick in baking over lockdown and that period when all the flour ran out in the shops. The title is obviously a play on words of knead and need, and I think bread making became this sort of cathartic and meditative thing for a lot of people – the need to knead.”
The result of which is a collection of sculptural, game-like pieces that give a firm nod to her longstanding inquisition into technology and mixed media. Usually, her work tends to gravitate solely around the process rather than an idea or concept – something she remarks as being detrimental to herself as an artist, but equally it enables her to create freely. “I love the enjoyment in making because I’m worrying too much about whether it fits with the concept,” she says. “I have themes I inevitably refer back to, but most of my inspiration comes through the process of making – so experimenting with new materials and textures.” When ideating and devising a plan, oftentimes she’ll head to her local hardware store to browse its contents, looking around until she sees something she thinks she could work into the mix. “You soak up a lot of stuff just doing day-to-day tasks to be honest, and this is probably why my work often reference the domestics.”
A past piece, for example, sees the artist repurpose a bundle of kitchen utensils, a base of materials chosen for the fact that her studio is next to Wilko that by chance had an abundance of cooking utensils in stock. “I made some animations that were meant to be sort of faux-tech-religious artefacts that were based on ornaments I’d been looking at on Ebay, and the fact that I was working at the Woon Gallery at the time, so I was surrounded by ancient religious artefacts all day.” She’s also made a piece about socks, inspired by the fact that she thought her socks on her washing line looked nice in the sunlight. “Basic” inspirations indeed, but this only signifies Kara’s ability to turn the everyday into something magical.
When it’s not the household item, Kara tends to draw from various materials, like wooden frames or flour – as seen in her recent pieces for Vitrine where she’s been creating salt dough tiles, mixing corn flour, PVA glue and paint into a paste and piping onto boards to build textural imagery. She’s also found joy in discovering expandable foam (“very late to the party”) and uses it heavily throughout her recent pieces, “painted over with oil paint to make fake dough shapes,” she adds. “At the moment, I’m filling pairs of tights or cardboard boxes with it to make armatures for things, or drawing patterns in it.”
Clearly heading into the realms of physical artworks, Kara’s work is a tremendous mismatch of sculpture, digital exhibition design and animation. Her pieces send you right back to the days spent playing The Sims, just as much as they remind you of your daily meander through the contents of your kitchen cupboard. “All of my work has an underlying theme of technologies of the present and future, and their potential consequences,” she concludes. “But it’s all within the sphere of the everyday, so it’s instances that anyone can relate to.”
Kara Chin: Blue Screen of Death. Fitbit Worship, animation 1080p 16:9 (Copyright © Kara Chin, 2020)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.