STRONG COOKIE
Kristy M Chan

PRIOR Art Space Berlin

29th April to 2nd June

/ Solo Show - works created in DEL ARCO RESIDENCY

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PRIOR Art Space Berlin

"In gyms, there are four times as many men as women in the weight room. With its bulky equipment, sweltering heat and robust physiques, it seems intimidating at first, but it becomes less daunting when viewed as a place to improve, to play, or to enjoy.

For artist Kristy M Chan’s first solo exhibition in Berlin “Strong Cookie,” she explores the physicality of sports and art in her seven new works on view at Prior Art Space. The exhibition’s title is drawn from the contradiction arising from the terms "strong" and "cookie". Seemingly sugary, the term is backhanded flattery that leaves a bitter aftertaste. In recent events, the artist was repeatedly coddled as "darling" and "baby", terms which teeter between praise and condescension.

Paintings by Chan are abstract, adding to the current effort to extend this discipline beyond its historical context. They are also intuitively layered, with many pieces being disassembled and restitched, a process typically attributed to women. In these, gym equipment like dumbbell racks and microscopic views of protein structures are incorporated until they are unrecognisable and engulfed by a fury of brushstrokes. Folded proteins function biologically by winding around one another, a process reflected in the artist's work, which combines fixed and flexible marks in a tangle of twirls to examine the beauty of bodies bonded by DNA. The ambiguity of the imagery depicted is not solely aesthetic, as some of the items portrayed are so frequently used by men that they become masculine in nature. Confronting and controlling, jarring line-work performs on these objects with a stark contrast between vividness and muteness in the colour scheme, to reclaim and forfeit power.

By using unconventional materials like her own menstrual blood, her paintings explore ideas of weakness and strength. In addition to being associated with periods, which often cause weakening due to estrogen depletion, creatinine, found in blood, also functions as a body booster in sports supplements. Our inner and outer selves live through perpetual contention, and so it is inevitable that entire gym cultures revolve around fortifying our bodies and minds from the daily destabilisation.

However, this optimal environment for growth can also lead to harm. The artist constructed these pieces while experiencing an incidental back strain from deadlifting. The collection of works exemplifies the obstacles she endured while healing. To the artist, the physicality of painting itself or "painting for the sake of painting" is analogous to the intensive training process. Throughout the two floors of the gallery space, she illustrates not only the varying levels of fitness equipment, but also the physical morphing that occurs within them.

Sometimes fluid, sometimes compressed, Chan's painting style captures both the gloomy and the appealing motions and emotions of gym culture, like insecurity and injury. These expose and obscure multiple aspects of her personal life: her athletic disposition, her upbringing in a traditional Hong Kong setting that continues to glorify thinness, her struggles with body dysmorphia and self-doubt. The interplay between power and powerlessness is inherent in these works, demonstrating how the human body constantly battles complex social and structural issues in both gym culture and everyday life, but a skilful technique and a spirit of dedication always prevail.

The works were produced during a three-months residency at Del Arco Collection in the German capital, dedicated to supporting underrepresented artists in the art institutional establishment. The exhibition coincides with the 18th annual Gallery Weekend Berlin, a series of exhibitions featuring the works of local and international artists in 50 galleries, providing an in-depth look at Berlin’s gallery landscape.


Words by Vanessa Murrell




About the artist

Kristy M Chan (b. 1997, Hong Kong) works between London, UK and Hong Kong, China. Recent solo exhibitions include “Totally Not”, at The Artist Room in London (2022) and HART Haus, Hong Kong (2021). She participated in group exhibitions at Soho Revue, London (2022); Alte Handelsschule, Leipzig (2020); Exhibition Laboratory, Helsinki (2019); and Hong Kong Visual Art Centre, Hong Kong (2019). She has participated in residencies including Del Arco Collection Residency, Berlin (2022), PILOTENKUECHE, Leipzig (2020) and AiR Frosterus, Finland (2019). She received her MA from Sotheby’s Institute of Art in 2020 and her BFA from Slade School of Fine Art in 2019."