Kara Chin & Harley Kuyck-Cohen


Interview by Jessica Bennett

-

Published in August 2021

-



Remedial Works, Kara Chin & Harley Kuyck-Cohen, Quench Gallery, Margate, UK, 2021


Firstly, Congratulations on your show; Remedial Works at Quench Gallery last month! Do you want to explain the show?

HKC: Whenever I have been asked this, I've always described it as: me and Kara had met up over a series of studio visits and found similarities within our practice. For example, our use of materials; We have a similar process of making as well as the use of texture. We are both interested in different surfaces, landscapes, play and even natural materials. We came to Remedial works, because we like the way buildings are revisited. When they have been built poorly and they need added attention. So, an example of something needing remedial works would be chronic dampness in a house...



Remedial Works, Kara Chin & Harley Kuyck-Cohen, Quench Gallery, Margate, UK, 2021


Is this how you came up with the name for your title?

KC: When we discussed the title, we realised Remedial Works applied to both of our practices in terms of process. The idea of breaking down and rebuilding; all the sculptures I made started off as completely different works and then by gradually breaking them apart, rebuilding them and using repetitive techniques, they arrived at the sculptures you see in the show. I think it’s through this sort of process in the studio that we realised we had common ground...

HKC: … Yes, we also shared a common ground about buildings. In our works, there are elements where these pieces look like buildings, but also not and can seem bodily. It's less about trying to represent something that's in your head… but trying to embody the process.


 
Remedial Works, Kara Chin & Harley Kuyck-Cohen, Quench Gallery, Margate, UK, 2021


So, would you say that the process you're doing for these works; it's then up to the viewer to make their own interpretation of that piece?

KC: Yes, for sure! I guess it always is in a way. I will be honest, I did approach this show probably not knowing anything I was doing (all laugh) but this was great for me as it became about play and being able to try out different things, using different textures, different surfaces, rebuilding, destroying, being very experimental…

HKC: ...It was also about not having one ‘shiny’ artwork as well. In the studio, I often think about how artists can go beyond one thought and how it can be more. For us, it was having the time; to be able to play, be experimental and to put this into new work to see how it grows and evolves organically.



Remedial Works, Kara Chin & Harley Kuyck-Cohen, Quench Gallery, Margate, UK, 2021


How long did you have to work on the show? I guess it was stopping and starting because of COVID, this must have been a weird situation, especially when the process is so vital to each of your work?

KC: I had about two months which to be honest didn’t feel like enough time to me. But I think that's why it became more just about playing around, I tried to use the show to experiment with stuff and try new things without worrying too much about the outcome (which I obviously did anyway).



Remedial Works, Kara Chin & Harley Kuyck-Cohen, Quench Gallery, Margate, UK, 2021


This is important especially with having limited access over the last year to the studio space or even a white gallery space to give yourself the excitement of trying things out again…

HKC: I agree, and when I look at your work Kara, there is a total narrative even though it may seem to be very random to yourself. it's just very very intuitive...

KC: ...It's something that has gone on a journey. I started off with ideas for pieces that were completely different. This is something which links both of our works. I don't think either of us know where each piece will go. We might start with a certain intention, but it never ends up being that way. I have to destroy a lot of work before it ends up turning into something I like...

HKC: Yeah, that's so exciting! I feel like that's a privilege you can have as an artist to revisit or be remedial with works.


And there's the title! Full circle right there! (All laugh) Do you want to give some context to your relationship and how long you have known each other?

KC: Yes, So we both went to Slade School of Art together in 2014; so yes we have known each other for seven years now. I can't remember when we first met but we became good friends when I moved to sculpture. And then our friendship blossomed from there...

HKC: ...We were proper art nerds together! I do remember doing some stupid things in the name of art and it’s so funny looking back at it now! It was great!



Remedial Works, Kara Chin & Harley Kuyck-Cohen, Quench Gallery, Margate, UK, 2021


Is there one favourite piece of each other that you liked? Or possibly you didn't like it?

HKC: I think my favourite one of yours from the show is Pending Triumph. It's an assemblage with composites such as motors spinning like the top of it, there's miniature figures in it which sits on a plinth. It's got a map drawn with those composites on the plinth as well. I think what I liked about it was that it was quite unnerving in many ways. It didn't feel like it had a specific narrative and was more grotesque compared to your other pieces; something I hadn’t seen before...

... I was going to say the office chair piece (Killing Time Watching Garden Videos. 2021)  as this is really strong work. However, there was a clear narrative with that piece whereas Pending Triumph you can tell encompassed many ideas and thoughts. The trophy itself has so much meaning already behind it such as ceremony, achievement etc. but I think this piece went beyond that thinking about classification and residue…

KC: Thanks! I am happy you got that from those pieces!

I'm torn between two pieces within Art Deco but I'm going to go with the one that had really strong diagonales. There was something about that diagonal that was really exciting in the space in the way it mimicked the angles of the staircase, and because it set it apart from all the other works, even though it was still the same surfaces and textures. It was a piece where you could see it from all different angles and experience something different each time.

For example, as you walked in, you saw this big plain, matte, diagonal sheet with this big yellow column in the middle. However, when you walk around to the other side you've got to see the interior and there was a desecrated house hiding inside with all these weird chimneys sticking out and hangers covered in feathers. These materials were in other pieces within the show, but it was really nice to see them contained in this weird hole which was really gross and quite scary inside. But then from yet another angle, it looked like an airport runway. I enjoyed the contrast of how the inside was earthy, like a cave, while the exterior kept me thinking of runways and roads...

Also, I've seen the work that was inside separate, and it was such a surprise to see it encased in this big thing for the exhibition. I love that process of encasement in a work, when you make separate components, and you build up and around them in that way. The interior has so much dedicated time put into it and then it was all wrapped up, so you had to really look to see it. It has so much depth and density every bit that you see. It had all my concentration; this was my favourite one!



Remedial Works, Kara Chin & Harley Kuyck-Cohen, Quench Gallery, Margate, UK, 2021


HKC: Thanks! When making that I was thinking about a rotunda house, at first it was quite traditional, and it got to a stage where the floor started coming down so I decided to go in a different direction.

I really liked how you picked up on the house, because I've come to the stage personally where I want to make things that are more spatial in the gallery. I like how you saw that this piece is an event within itself. I am drawn to different angles and different perspectives, an objective visual play…

KC: Speaking about this piece and referring to the use of play, remedial works, and rebuilding; I think we both share an interest in how we come to terms with our works. How sometimes you have to leave a piece for months until you hate it. You have to not like it enough to break it up, and then this gives you the capability to use it in an interesting way….

This must have happened with this sculpture as I saw you make this house. It must have taken ages and it is a beautiful piece. However, to then ‘not care about it enough’ to encase it inside another piece so that you can't even see all the way around is such a big decision. Yeah, it's really nice, it adds something to the work when you can think: ‘’I've made this amazing thing and I am going to destroy it and cover it up and that’s fine’’...

HKC: … Yes, I couldn't agree more! This is something I am aiming for a lot of the minute. I have to remember I am not a craftsman, I am an artist, so I can't have it as a holy, valuable object; that I am really proud of making. I have to learn to hate it and also learn to look at it as anyone else would....

KC: ...And as a building block; that's when things become exciting. The different building blocks that you create and use If each component you have to work with is exciting, then the work is more exciting for the artist…

...Do you think this is also to do with the fact that neither of us are amazing makers? (no offence!) … we don't make shiny, perfect works. Our work is full of blemishes and mistakes. For the time we put in the work, we choose to sacrifice making perfectly crafted objects, so that we can pour the time into trying to make things really complex and layered instead. We add and add and add, rather than having perfect things...

HKC: … this is to do with labour as well. I think about this a lot about and what it means to be like an artist in the UK. It is so equitable to be like ‘How long did this take?’ or ‘You're really good at wood work!’ And if those are the conversations you're having, you might as well be a craftsman. When I'm working, I'm thinking about the elasticity of the things that I can do but to still be able to portray an idea to communicate something. I think both of our works have that richness. We aim for objects of substance…



Remedial Works, Kara Chin & Harley Kuyck-Cohen, Quench Gallery, Margate, UK, 2021


I know what you mean, there is so much grit and depth to both of your works, that as a viewer, I think I question it more... than if it was this perfect, shiny object. And for the record, I do think both are great makers. So don't ever say that!

Okay, you’ve both already touched on this question...but were there any unexpected crossovers with your practices or underlying themes, which you didn't realise until going through this journey of a duo exhibition?

HKC: There was that moment in the very early stages, we were just talking and we both realised we were interested in this play element...

KC: That was a really nice moment. We don’t create similar work, but we have a similar approach...

HKC: ...I think we have different visual cues as well. For example, cultures, I think my work can be described as very English. And your work is more interested in Asian Western crossovers...

KC: Yeah, for sure. I guess that is the artist coming through in the work, I do sometimes question this with my pieces if they are just a weird self-portrait (All laugh!). It's an exhibition of what we're interested in and we're interested in different things. But we're both interested in the process...

HKC: … Yes, I agree, this probably comes from studying together as well… I also work in this way to prove that you don't have to provide the kind of expectations of making or to make shiny works. I want the work to be more about thinking and less about the creating and/or the quality of finish to be aesthetically pleasing...

KC: …. I Agree, I guess I make things because I like making If I put the time in... maybe I could make a shiny perfect piece of work... but it bores me. I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to prove anything, I'm just excited about making things fast. If I've got an idea, I just want to realise it right away. If you make things perfect and shiny, there’s so much time and effort that goes into just preparing to make the work (which is commendable). But for me I lose interest, I want the excitement of just making the work happen right away in the studio!



Remedial Works, Kara Chin & Harley Kuyck-Cohen, Quench Gallery, Margate, UK, 2021


Can you each give an example of a piece of work in the show or your thought process behind that? How would you say you work as an artist to go from the idea to the final, physical sculpture? Is there a ‘method to the madness’?

KC: I will be honest; I find this question hard to answer as I think that my process of working on this show ended up not being a good one. It was a really, really quick turnaround for me. When I reflect back at the process of making this work, I was in a bit of a blind panic. I did have fun in the moments when I discovered a new texture that I was really excited about…

That's how they all started really; I originally went in thinking ‘I'm just going to have some fun with textures’. That is where I get the excitement and ideas from; I was just playing around with these different textures in salt dough. What would happen if you mix them with PVA? and when you mix them with varnish? What would happen if you mix them with XYZ?...

… However, in terms of the form, I think I was in a panic towards the end. I feel as though a lot of them are in the beginning stage of my process. Whereas, they could have been more exciting and might have ended up in a different form if I had the time to play further. I think in a nutshell my process for this show was: having fun playing around with different textures and elements, realising I’d run out of time and chaotically throwing them all together...

HKC: ...It's funny you say this, as I remember speaking to our mutual friend, Taylor, a few months ago telling him that we're going to do a show together. He was talking about both our works, and he said:

Harley's work was ‘controlled chaos’. Whereas Kara’s is ‘chaotic control’...


That's really nice! I love that! weirdly now you've said it... Yes, I can literally see it.

When you went to Quench Gallery and saw the space, would you say you had a set process for the install?  Or was that also you playing with the space given these were new pieces and ideas for you both?

HKC: No, I had no idea what we were doing when we got there. I didn't even know what pieces Kara was bringing down and I was planning on making some decisions on my pieces when we got in the physical space…

KC: Yeah, I finished all my work the day before we went down, they all changed in the last week as well. Even when we arrived, we were both surprised with what we’d actually brought. Harley  brought these gates down which were part of the install, and I thought he’d just found them in the gallery! I genuinely didn't realise he brought them until opening night…

HKC: HAHA! I was on Facebook marketplace and saw those gates. I was like, that would look good.

KC: Yeah. They were really good. The gates were a really good addition especially in relation to the space.


Do you think your history and friendship played a part in the show?

HKC: Yeah, definitely. I think if I was working with someone I didn't know very well, I would have had a massive stress out during install, especially with not knowing the works and it being such a playful and experimental show. I feel like the whole install process and the development has come very naturally given our relationship and we know how each other works as artists...

KC: ...I agree! We openly have discussions, we've known each other for long enough that when things were happening or not going in the direction we wanted, we just said! I think we already have a lot of respect for each other as friends and as artists so it was really easy to have a frank discussion about it. It definitely would have been a different show otherwise!


Would you say that because you have known each other's practice for so long; Did you already expect, even subconsciously, how you thought the other person's work would have been in space?

KC: No, I don't think so, I didn't even know what I was showing… That being said, I know what kind of artist Harley is. I knew that there were just going to be loads of surprises...

You make bold decisions; the gates were a really good example of that. You can't predict decisions like that, I can just trust your direction…

HKC: I agree, it's also really hard as an artist who works in such an experimental way in this art world, which depends on proposals and descriptions of projects. When really the main body of it; is the process, those spurs of the moment decisions and those evolving works when you are in a space…


Given your similar ways of working and good friendship; Do you think you ever could collaborate on a piece together?

KC: Maybe one day, but I don't think either of us are there yet… I don’t think either of us are good at creating works as a team. I find I have to make decisions when I'm completely alone. I find it quite difficult to think clearly unless I’m the only person in the room.

HKC: I agree, I think we could curate a show or even coordinate a project about our process… but it wouldn't necessarily be a collaborative work…


Interesting! I asked as I am intrigued because you both have such a similar process that it's whether you physically brought that process to one piece…

HKC: I think it would comprise both our works…

KC: I agree, I think that we have similar processes. But I think in terms of the execution of those processes, that is what makes our work very different.


We have all been through a very interesting year given the pandemic, what impact has this had on your practice? Have you learnt anything new about your practice?

HKC: Totally! The quality of my work I have been making has become more flatpack, so it is changeable, and things aren't permanently fixed. Especially with the lockdowns, I had no idea when to meet a deadline because things were so unknown for so long. I began to create more playful objects, so I wasn't depending on those deadlines…


Yes, I get you! it's almost trying to be a bit more versatile in a way but also to keep your artist momentum going through the unknown. Especially with the stopping and starting of lockdowns and obviously shows being pushed back and pushed back…

HKC: Exactly that! My work has gotten bleaker! I think with a combination of lockdown and mental health...


That’s very Interesting, this has been a tough time for many of us so it is understandable that this would have reflected in your work! What about you, Kara?

KC: It's been an interesting one for me as I know many artists have gone through a difficult time losing opportunities, shows being delayed or even being cancelled altogether. I've been really lucky, I've actually had a lot of work on, I had my first solo show at Vitrine and other projects throughout the year. The pandemic did impact me on a more practical side, in terms of access to materials and my studio. I had to rethink the way that I make work. For example, for the first lockdown, my studio was shut, all local ceramics studios were shut; so I had to rethink all of the materials and what I could use at home… 

Looking back, this still had an impact in a good way as it made me explore different materials, I created a lot more digital work and forced myself to learn digital tools. Personally, I've also just felt that this year I've had no time to think about my work properly, which I feel it's been detrimental to it...


I get that! you can't stop and reflect; to go onto the next process or development of your practice...

KC: …Yes, you always say this Harley, which I think is a perfect analogy for it:

“You need to breathe in and breathe out”

I have been so busy; I haven't had any time to breathe in. It's just been a year of consistent panic and it's not a sustainable way to work. I've noticed with each sequential project; I've just felt less interested in my own work.


I love this idea of breathing in and breathing out, we all need to slow down our pace after last year, I definitely felt this was way curatorially!

Do you think this was the pandemic as nobody had a social life to let off steam? There was no time to let yourself regenerate; to give yourself some time away from the studio…

KC: Yes exactly! It was little things such as going to galleries or the library, all of these things you suddenly can't do, and I felt like everything became much more insular. All the information I was getting was online, which influenced shows as well but you're just not taking in as much stuff. Which is why elements of my work ended up being about windows, doors etc and things I've actually seen day after day...

HKC: Yeah, I definitely feel the same as I actually ended up putting in the work that was taken from the streets and everyday walking. Just the dregs of everything as they were the only signs of life that you could get...


Once we go ‘back to normal’ whatever world that may be, do you think your practice will change and what direction is this going in?

HKC: I want to make more work about the UK exploring structures of identity; and coming to terms with living in a really f**ded up country…

KC: I am going to be really selfish and say I want the time to start making something really exciting. I was looking back through old things that I used to do; and I changed a lot of my processes as I thought they were really time-consuming things that might not ever work. I want to be able to have the time to experiment with those processes that won't work... As this might lead to something amazing and a new direction...

HKC: Yeah! More time definitely… Also, a residency! Maybe even abroad!


Would you do another show together?


HKC & KC: YES!!! (said in sync)

-

If you like this why not read our interview with No Jobs in the Arts.

-

© YAC | Young Artists in Conversation ALL RIGHTS RESERVED