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Artist Carla Chan on Embracing Contradiction and Finding the Light

by Annie Davidson

Artist Carla Chan in he studio, sitting and working on one of her installations
Courtesy of La Prairie.

For someone who was born and raised in the fast-paced, cosmopolitan hub of Hong Kong, the artist Carla Chan is surprisingly influenced by nature in her work. “Nature was not part of my daily life back in Hong Kong,” says the 32-year-old. “I avoided being in or surrounded by nature at every point, due to my phobia of insects.” However, her curiosities had other plans. “My vision of nature evolved during my first [trip] to the North of Sweden, when I discovered a remote place where the contrast of scale and space was very present. ‘The power of nature’ itself was so dominant that it led me to create art about nature and my emotional attachment to it.”

The artist has spent years marrying her conflicting emotions about nature in her work. Upon graduating from the City University of Hong Kong and splitting her time in Berlin around 2011, Chan embraced the elements of her two worlds, combining the technological advancements of Hong Kong with the natural surroundings of Berlin. “New technologies mean new possibilities,” she says. “Accepting how we consume technology is an inevitable topic in our contemporary time. I do believe technology brings us a lot of positive sides as a means to transform and create elements, feelings, and images in a way which are still unimaginable to us today.”

“Space Between the Light Glows” at Frieze New York and La Prairie; presence courtesy of Da Ping Luo.
“Space Between the Light Glows” at Frieze New York and La Prairie; presence courtesy of Da Ping Luo.

Setting the tone for the rest of her portfolio, Chan then began to explore contradictions in her work, detailing tensions like man versus nature, light’s interaction with darkness, the movement of time and its deadlock—all through the use of media such as video, installation, photography, and more. The result: an all-encompassing, escapist experience. “My work is about creating an immersive space where one can lose oneself within, to create a moment of daydream that could simulate or reflect a thought and an emotion of some sort.”

Most recently, this intersection came to light (both literally and figuratively) through an immersive installation, Space Between the Light Glows, in partnership with luxury Swiss skincare house La Prairie at Frieze New York. Incorporating custom LED screens and opaque glass, Chan offered viewers a glimpse into her interpretation of the Swiss Alps, which she observed during her residency at the Monta Rosa Hut. And to Chan, this looked like, “an immersive daydreaming moment when natural light is reflected between the spaces in nature”—known to most as the “golden hour.”

Courtesy of La Prairie.

In celebration of the debut of La Prairie’s latest and greatest Pure Gold Collection, Chan homes in on concepts of preservation, longevity, and natural beauty through the installation. “Nature was the big inspiration behind this piece,” she says. “The human encounter with raw nature—the stillness, the beauty it imparts pushed me to reflect on the relationship between nature and humankind and how we cohabitate.” Aside from luxury skincare products that support these concepts, La Prairie also champions glaciers research projects and preserves art with Fondation Beyeler.

While the installation travels (and changes as it does so) to cities such as Hong Kong (its next stop), Chan isn’t sparing any time. “I am actually building a custom-made machine that involves an AI process to understand nature in a conceptual way,” she says. “That’s one of my upcoming projects.”

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