DE SARTHE is pleased to present Hong Kong-based artist Chan Ka Kiu’s solo exhibition, Late to the Party, concluding the gallery’s seventh annual de Sarthe Artist Residency (deSAR). An exploration of the human psyche vis-à-vis notions of fun, fame, fortune, and mortality, the exhibition features newly developed multimedia and installation artworks that collectively form an immersive journey through the artist’s imagined heaven, earth, and hell. Interspersed with references to religion, art history, contemporary commodities, as well as frivolous desires, the exhibition is a mischievous yet pensive response to the questions “What happens when you die?” and more importantly, “What does it mean to live?” Late to the Party opens September 9th and runs through September 30th.
Late to the Party started with the artist’s contemplation of the notorious “27 Club” - an informal list of popular musicians, artists, actors, and other celebrities who died at age 27. As the exhibition opens right on the verge of the artist’s 28th birthday, its title crafts a self-deprecating remark regarding Ka Kiu’s own desire for celebration and success. Utilizing varied found objects, video footage, and AI-generated imagery, the artist marries the familiar and bizarre in a constructed party-like environment. Filled with fictitious partygoers, the exhibition is an interpretation of what happens to humanity following the rainbow bridge.
With reference to Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1503-1515), the space is divided into three fluid areas, bound together by the artist’s use of red lighting and objects. Upon entering the space, a partition composed of floor-to-ceiling blinds separates the viewer from the gallery interior. Titled Peep Please (2023), the exhibition’s first artwork is a wall of red, venetian blinds on which colors reminiscent of a sunset or sunrise are projected. With light partially seeping through its slits, the artwork appears as if a sign or threshold that one must cross to be enlightened of the other side.
Beyond the enigmatic checkpoint is the first area – heaven. Visitors are greeted by three deities, namely Jesus, Siddhartha, and Lucifer, conversing – and singing a song – about humanity. Titled “IN LOVE” by 3 in 1 (2023), the three-channel video minutes a meeting between the higher beings via a mix of edited found and AI-generated footage. Displayed in three vertical panels, the videos are arranged to recall a church altar, yet of different faiths combined. As if a musical ensemble, the deities sing about love to a melody similar to that of a boy-band style love song. Thinking about love, life, and death as the ultimate equalizers, Ka Kiu’s artwork is laced with underlying themes of unity and oneness.
Referring once again to Bosch’s triptych, a giant, inflatable ball-pit-cum-fountain sits in the second area of the exhibition – earth. Happy Birthday (2023) is composed of a large, transparent kiddie pool filled with red, plastic balls. A spew of LED-lit optical fibers sprouts from the center and blooms into a tiered and layered fountain. The overall form of the installation is also vaguely reminiscent of a birthday cake. Using a curated collection of ready-made objects, the artwork is playfully evocative of childhood and widely resonated memories. Simultaneously, Ka Kiu’s conspicuous use of low-value consumer goods also brings to mind the artificial textures of contemporary life. In combining materials with undertones of both innocence and compromise, the artist elucidates the trivial items that accumulate to life from cradle to grave. Parallel to the concept of birthdays and other annual festivities, the installation points to the factual, physical conditions of living as well as the meaning and happiness we find and give to our earthly time and possessions.
A small booth cloaked in silky red curtains is tucked away to the side, housing in it another object familiar to many. Wishes (2023) is a resin sculpture of a Magic 8 Ball, within which is a 3D printed die with answers custom-written by the artist. The artwork contemplates the intention behind acts of fortune telling as well as its implication of a pre-determined destiny. However, self-contained and separate from the holistic environment, the artwork suggests that attempts of predicting the future are perhaps but wishful thinking – a way of trying to make sense of the randomness around us and an alternative interpretation operated by hope that is neither non-secular nor knowing.
In the exhibition’s final area – hell – an uncanny video of a galloping white horse is projected above a fiery array of simulated flames. Titled Back & Forth & Back (2023), the video installation portrays a trans-morphing equine running back and forth searching for something in an unrecognized realm. The video is divided into 2 parts, each created using found and AI-generated footage accompanied by a narrated script written by the artist. The first video begins with a life flashed before the eyes and subsequently a horse wandering around heaven, seeking to verify the rumor that Eve does not possess a belly button. The video emphasizes a somewhat ludicrous mission in contrast to a life that was over in seconds, seemingly exemplifying the spirit of human curiosity and trivial pursuit. In the second video, the horse travels endlessly in a vain attempt to make its way to hell. As its turmoil increases with each second, it questions whether it has already arrived its destination.
There is a certain oddness consistent throughout the exhibition, owing to how each artwork is constructed. From artificial intelligence imitating living beings to the artist recreating an imagined version of the afterlife, the exhibition is filled with simulacrums crafted via a fixed set of material understanding. Just as an AI-generated horse occasionally resulting in a headless or multi-limb monster, Ka Kiu’s interpretation of the great unknown appears both familiar and displaced.
In addition to the three areas, loose toys and items – or what the artist refers to as objects of ‘tittytainment’ – are placed sporadically throughout the gallery. Once again alluding to the trifle and often fatuous building blocks of life, the artist also intersperses inflatable representations of human beings into the mix, hinting at the insignificance of humanity in the grand scheme of things.
Amalgamating the above, an abstract conclusion can be drawn from Late to the Party – one that is perhaps embodied by Adam and Eve, the two inflatable people that the artist attached to robot vacuum cleaners, who wander back and forth through the space: We are small, and we are unsure where we are headed, but it’s okay – we are alive, and we have the time to find out.
To Ka Kiu, who is about to miss the party at the 27 Club – Happy Birthday.