Art and People
Interview with Chan Ka Kiu, artist-in-residence at DE SARTHE
Aug 28, 2023
The latest artist-in-residence at DE SARTHE, Chan Ka Kiu sat down with eazel to share about her multifaceted practice and experience as part of the residency program. Ka Kiu’s distinctive style blends craftsmanship with found footage, found objects, and contemporary themes. Her work has garnered attention from not only Hong Kong’s vibrant art scene, but also the global stage. DE SARTHE’s artist residency program is committed to nurturing emerging artists and promoting cross-cultural dialogue, and Ka Kiu exemplifies the innovation and boundary-breaking spirit that they seek. Pascal de Sarthe, founder and owner of DE SARTHE, shared with eazel that “it was awe-inspiring to observe Ka Kiu evolve within [the residency] context.”
Ka Kiu spoke in length about her inspirations, techniques, and aspirations, offering a glimpse into her world and shedding light on why she has cemented herself as an artist to watch.
eazel: Can you tell us about your practice and who you are as an artist?
Chan Ka Kiu (CKK): While my art practice is mainly about video art and installations, I like to work in the broader mode of collages. I use a lot of found footage, writing and assembling stories as a version and a part of myself. I also like to use found objects by putting them all together in such a way that it creates something entirely new.
eazel: Please tell us more about your artistic journey, including early influences, pivotal moments, and the development of your incredibly unique style. What are the inspirations that have shaped your work, whether it be cultural, personal, or artistic?
CKK: I think, in my earlier stages, a lot of my works were inspired by heartbreak, so a lot of my art was about romance and maybe a bit erotic. One of my early solo exhibitions, a booth at Art Basel Hong Kong with Para Site in 2019, was called Don't Come So Fast, Darling. We played a bit with the translation, since the literal translation from Cantonese to English is “take it slow, darling" (慢慢嚟啦，打令). With this presentation, I was actually thinking that I wanted to measure the world in terms of love. I cringe when I look back on it. (laughs)
Once while I was preparing for another exhibition, I was super busy but caught the flu. I still had to work on the new exhibition. At the time, I thought to myself, damn I’m unable to work, but having the flu forced me to rest before working. In that exhibition, I wrote a love story between the human body and flu. It was about how the flu tried to play with your immune system to help you rest for a few days. I think my inspirations were more personal and, in a sense, more about what can connect with other people. I’m not the only one who gets sick with the flu, right? It’s also all about enabling another angle to see how things happen, how I see things happening and how other people might see too. Because I work a lot with found footage in which the images have Cantonese cultural influence, this is another layer that is added to my story.
eazel: We’d love to hear about your experiences during the artist residency at DE SARTHE.
CKK: As I started to talk about this project, I had just turned 27. So, during the whole research period, I looked into many of the tragic artists of the 27 club: how they became who they were, what made them fall, what made them feel perhaps a bit empty, in some sense. One thing I observed was that the dopamine hit from being on stage must be so high and how intense the low must have been when they left the stage. That is so hard to sustain – they can't always be on stage, right? That's why, when I look into their tragic stories, it must have been a little harder for them, despite the fame. I asked myself, when they are on stage, they have the love of the whole world. When they get off stage, the love of a single lover might seem so little in comparison. I think that was maybe why it was so hard for them to love. When the idea developed and started to come together, the show changed from being about famous people to being about… the joy of being alive.
eazel: What are the objectives for this residency work?
CKK: I might not be directly answering your question, but I can tell you this. I knew I would be here in this big space for two months by myself, so the first thing I did was invite a bunch of people to accompany me: (Chan gestured towards the partially deflated - blow up dolls in large doughnut shaped plastic swimming pool) some friends who I don't have to entertain. During the first week of the residency, the dolls - like a bunch of people - were in strange positions, somewhat wandering around. The idea developed for the curatorial arrangement, inspired by the story of the garden of earthly delights. There will be installations representing heaven featuring Jesus, Satan and Buddha talking about mortal humans, and also an installation representing hell. The pool will be in the middle of the space [that a group of dolls are currently occupying], representing a birthday cake combined with a fountain installation. Of all the festivals around the year, a birthday is an event that is both solitary and shared, like a fountain where people can gather. A birthday is the one occasion where you can literally choose who you invite. I can’t logically explain how this comes together in my head yet, but all together I’m telling a story about the mortal world.
eazel: Can we hear about the environment, interactions with other artists, and how the residency has impacted your creative process?
CKK: The best example is like, when those people [dolls] were here and guests started to come to visit, I hadn’t thought about the garden of earthly delights. I think that's how unofficial collaboration happens. A lot of guests talked to the dolls about Barbie because of the blockbuster movie (laughs). I think another mindset that I have learned to foster is being ready for people to see my work in progress. It’s not going to be perfect when they see it, always a rough draft. That was hard for me in the beginning; it’s so raw that I didn't feel like letting people see. This was a big part of the learning process during the residency. Learning how to let go and let the art work grow organically in random conversations was part of the fun in this residency.
eazel: Take us through the technical aspects of your art. What are your preferred mediums and techniques? Did you explore any experimental approaches during the residency?
CKK: The materials I'm using are divided into two parts: physical and digital. When it comes to the physical, for this exhibition in particular, I wanted to use a lot of plastic that looks cheap. At this stage, I think it is a question of taste. To me, the value of my art was never in the materials, but rather in the concepts. I also feel like plastic is a material that people will not be afraid to touch, and, through this material, I can bring my audience closer to my art.
In terms of exploring techniques, as AI started to bloom this year, everyone is talking about ChatGPT this, ChatGPT that. I’ve been using AI, text to image, text to video, and playing a little bit with machine learning. I’m still exploring! One thing that is fun about working with AI is that it's not always controllable. AI is a good friend, maybe a good colleague, but you can’t always get the exact thing you have in your head. It’s about having an open mind about what the outcome may be, especially the happy accidents.
eazel: Let’s get into how the artist residency has allowed you to interact with DE SARTHE and the local art community, such as any collaborations, workshops, or exhibitions.
CKK: We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and I know that physically I am not very strong. In the Wong Chuk Hang art district, there are many galleries around here and some of my friends have shows or are working there. I might sometimes need to call on them to help me with heavy lifting when making the installation work. It’s not like I have to do everything alone.
Although we didn’t have any workshops, there are some groups visiting on the weekends while touring the nearby galleries. An interesting part of this residency is being able to learn more about Wong Chuk Hang and the area in particular. I previously had a performance piece presented at Art Basel Hong Kong. The work featured a large motherly lady with a big beautiful smile, handing out flyers. When someone wanted to take a leaflet from her, she would then throw it on the floor.
In Wong Chuk Hang, on many afternoons at the MTR station, there is a very strong-looking dude with cute puppy eyes, looking at all the ladies very sincerely while giving out flyers. The aunties passing by are always looking at him with a smile. I am trying to see if I can also arrange for him to perform here during the opening. I will see if I can make that happen.
eazel: Did you face any challenges during the residency? If so, how did you overcome them? Were there any breakthrough moments or new discoveries that emerged during this creative period?
CKK: Oh (groans) there’s a lot of challenges, trying to put things together in this space. Actually, this is my first gallery solo show. Sometimes you could say it’s easier to work in a place that is not this fine. (laughs) I have to be careful. The fun part is also that there are many galleries nearby and a lot of my friends are artists who have shows around here. As friends, we trade. For example, one of my friends is very experienced with installations, having previously worked for a museum on the installation team. So I traded with a friend: I lent him a TV, and in exchange he helped me with some heavy installation. Being an artist is a very solo job, where you do the majority of things by yourself and try to make them happen on your own. Sometimes, it's okay to ask for help and get support from your struggling artist friends. In terms of breakthroughs, I think of it more like moments accumulating and everything synchronizing.
eazel: What can you tell us about future plans and upcoming projects?
CKK: Hopefully by the end of this residency, I can confidently say that I’ve found my own voice. There might be two big projects coming up: one in November and another one that I can’t disclose at the moment. I look forward to letting you all know at a later time. Stay tuned, everyone.
Chan Ka Kiu’s residency ends on September 8, 2023, and her exhibition at DE SARTHE in Hong Kong begins on September 9, 2023. Find out more about Chan Ka Kiu's artist residency at DE SARTHE here.