The Shock of the Now Issue 4
Featured Exhibition Text

Kara Chin
'Fountain of Youth' Solo Exhibition
Huxley-Parlour Gallery

11th August 2021

You descend into Kara Chin’s latest solo exhibition at Huxley-Parlour Gallery in Mayfair, befitting of an exhibition and installation bathed in cautionary red light that serves to simultaneously satirise and forewarn against transhumanist ideals. Chin, a British-Singaporean artist based in Newcastle, graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in 2018 with a BA in Sculpture and has gone on to exhibit as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries and present solo exhibitions at Gallery North (the result of being awarded The Woon Foundation Painting and Sculpture Prize), BALTIC39 and DKUK. Her previous solo exhibition, ‘You Will Knead’, was perhaps the only exhibition to open during the early 2021 lockdown due to Vitrine Gallery’s unique window front space in Bermondsey, perfectly suited to socially distanced outdoor art viewing.

‘Fountain of Youth’ depicts a dystopian not-too-distant future in which humanity has undergone voluntary cryogenic freezing in order to prospectively prolong its lifespan, all whilst being cared for by an array of artificial intelligence instilled automatons. Chin has long been interested in the often comical implementations of transhumanism, the belief that man must soon merge with machines in order to guarantee the longevity of the human race. But with technological advancements as they stand in 2021, the most transhumanists have managed to accomplish are embedded subcutaneous microchips that allow for certain easings of domestic chores such as unlocking a car, controlling a thermostat or completing contactless payments.

The principal animated video work in the exhibition situates us a little further down the path of technological progress, and depicts multiple robots and AI animatronics fussing around a futuristic laboratory, presumably tending to their cryogenically frozen overlords. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the automatons are in fact concerned only with the everyday task of making coffee, all frantically grinding and measuring out coffee beans, stirring steaming mugs, and watching over assembled cups, kettles and cafetieres. It would appear that during their study of, and interactions with, humans, these particular robotic attendants have mistaken coffee as our deity, with its own associated devotional objects and religious practices. The laboratory suddenly seems noticeably ecclesiastical, strewn with lit candles, gold symbols and supposed scripture all arranged around an altar-esque platform atop which sits a polished coffee urn. Perhaps it was the duplicitous double-meaning evoked by this central receptacle’s name that led to the robot’s misinformed messianic interest in the popular caffeinated beverage, or perhaps the video is a more pointed critique of contemporary society’s unrelenting obsession with coffee, and resultant twee phraseology such as ‘To drink is human, to drink coffee is divine’. 

Whilst navigating the installation of coffee cups, stacked mugs and coiled wires that litter the floor of the exhibition you’ll discover ‘Killing Time Watching Gardening Videos’ (2021), an example of the sculptural dioramas, born from an investigation of scale, that have recently characterised Chin’s practice. Inspired by both the odd techniques often employed by online stores of including households items such as coinage or soda cans into product photography to denote comparative scale, as well as the peculiar penchant for oversized or miniaturised versions of everyday objects that predominate the internet, Chin questions our changing relationship to scale as we increasingly live our lives online and experience much of our daily lives condescend into the size of a computer or phone screen. Here the textured labyrinthine diorama - partly constructed from organic matter such as mulch, flour and salt to highlight further contradictions between the natural and the technological - erupts from an office swivel chair, as further shrunken chairs, miniature spectacles and glowing screens populate its dingy caverns.