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Kai Chan captures the small beauties of life

By in Culture

Wine bottles. Toothpicks. Silk thread. Using such small, simple components, Kai Chan captures the small, simple moments in life.

A woman ponders the meaning of “Mirage” by Kai Chan.

Over a dozen works spanning 35 years of Chan’s career are currently on display at the Mendel Art Gallery. His installations and sculptures are often misleadingly simple to look at. What may look like loose heaps of branches entangled in each other is, upon closer inspection, meticulously assembled, with each joint strategically connected to other components in a towering work that makes one marvel at the patience required to create this illusion.

The layered and detailed aspects of Chan’s work still exist within minimalist pieces that impress as much with their minute intricacy as they do with their overall simplicity.

The exhibition is appropriately titled A Spider’s Logic.

In “Aurora,” he collects layers and layers of red cotton and nylon thread and drapes them over a wooden beam to create a thick curtain that is both solid and fluid. In “Mirage,” hundreds of nails in a wall allow him to suspend red silk threads in a variety of flowing lines and shapes. The effect is both ephemeral and timeless.

Born in China in 1940 and raised mostly in Hong Kong, Chan moved to Toronto in his mid-20s and hoped to create entirely modern, Western art. However, he soon learned that his art still had strong Chinese influences that he could not entirely eliminate.

Canada, in the 1960s and ’70s was a lot less multicultural than it is today, and Chan was adrift between two worlds: one he had left but could not escape, and one he was in but could not fully integrate with.

“People would ask me about being Chinese,” he said. “So I went to libraries and museums to find out.”

Ultimately, Chan came to straddle the Chinese and Western parts of himself, and it shows in his art. “Mountains and Water” resembles the Chinese characters associated with those concepts. “Moon in Water” is named from an old Chinese proverb. Chan also uses materials like bamboo and sticks of incense that are commonly used in China.

Chan’s award-winning art has gained international exposure, with exhibitions in Canada, the United States, Japan and numerous European countries. A Spider’s Logic, a career retrospective, is curated by Sarah Quinton and was on display at the Textile Museum of Canada from November 2010 to May 2011 and is currently on tour across Canada. The only flaw in the exhibition, after looking at the artist’s website, is that it doesn’t include more of Chan’s stunning work.

[box type=”info”]A Spider’s Logic is at the Mendel Art Gallery until March 18.[/box]

Photo: Matthew Stefanson/The Sheaf

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