The Many Whims of Kara Chin

Kara Chin, Awakening Ceremony, 2021.

The Singapore-born, UK–based artist pieces together ceramics, installations, and animations with intuition and emotion

When Kara Chin was a child, she would sit at the back of her sister’s ballet class. She hated to twirl and point, but she did enjoy drawing the dancers. At home, she sat in the kitchen and drew food, kitchen appliances, the whirring washing machine. ‘The stuff that surrounded me,’ she says. ‘The mundane, the everyday.’

We’re talking via our screens, Chin from her studio in Newcastle. She lived in Singapore until she was two, then moved to Chester in northwest England with her sister and their mother. At school, she was the best in her art class: ‘I know it’s not about drawing things perfectly, but I was always good at that.’ Graduating in 2018 from the Slade School of Fine Art in London, she painted for two years before switching to sculpture on a whim – a move she describes as ‘the best thing I ever did.’ ‘To me, painting comes from the head, it requires decision-making, whereas sculpture is about piecing things together. It’s intuitive.’

Left: Portrait of Kara Chin. Courtesy of the artist and LINSEED. Right: Kara Chin, Spot, 2023. © The artist. Photograph by Rob Harris. Courtesy of the artist and LINSEED.

In fact, her work, which explores the impact of fast-evolving technologies on people and the planet, spans animation, ceramics, and installation. She’s less interested in research than she is in making: ‘That’s where the fun is.’ Her ideas often dictate her materials, as with You Will Knead (2021), a body of work based on baking bread, some of it in the form of puzzle pieces assembled into whimsical scenarios. The work was produced during a pandemic lockdown. ‘I was thinking about people baking, and flour running out in shops,’ she says. ‘So, I made the pieces out of salt dough.’

Works by Kara Chin. Left: I Knead Dough, 2021. Right: The Taekwondo, 2021. © The artist. Courtesy of the artist and LINSEED.

Over the past year, she’s experienced a shift. After a loss in the family, her art has become less about concepts and more about emotions. ‘I can’t keep my feelings out of what I’m doing,’ she tells me. For Goldsmiths CCA in London, she channeled those feelings into ‘Concerned Dogs’ (2023), an immersive show featuring miniature sets of felt cinema seats scattered with chewing gum and crisp packets and overrun with marbled and varnished weeds. The overriding impression was one of dread, on both a personal and a universal level. ‘I want my work to be giving,’ says Chin. ‘To be visually generous and to make people feel intrigue or joy or … something.’

Exhibition View ‘Concerned Dogs’, 2023, Goldsmiths CCA / © The artist. Photograph by Rob Harris. Courtesy of the artist, Goldsmiths CCA, and LINSEED.

Kara Chin is represented by Linseed Projects (Shanghai) and Vitrine (London, Basel).

Chloë Ashby is an author and arts journalist based in London. Her first novel, Wet Paint, was published in 2022.

Published on January 2, 2024, courtesy of Art Basel

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