The past two years were Karmen Cheng’s formal foray from her previous professional lives– advertising, academia, management consulting– into an art practice. The decision came from her thirst for an open space to combine research and critical analysis with storytelling and chance.
Extending her previous research on taste and power dynamics, Karmen's work looks at the cultural, phenomenological, and practical barriers between different forms of interaction. Her practice deals
with participatory exchanges– archived conversations, found video footage or social experiments.
She loves playing with questions and stories, and getting to know the things that bring meaning to people's lives. This year, her goal is to see what slowing down can do for her art– a steady mind, a steady hand, and neater marks.
"Tenderness, Duty, Indifference, Cruelty, Appearances, and Craft was borne out of an emotional conflict as well as my curiosity in proxemics, the study of spatial use as an elaboration of culture. In 2019, I began observing the ways different comfort zones were negotiated in a shared space.
To me, comfort zones were represented by the negative spaces between bodies in different interactions. I extracted these shapes from still-frames of videos, some collected from my family group chat, others created myself. Most of the interactions were between my then one-year-old nephew, his caretaker, and my mother. I was interested in the social distances in a domestic setting, created by a specific power dynamic. Foreign domestic workers are employees; care for their employers’ children is sometimes part of the job scope, but the nature of their work invokes an almost mother-child bond. The dissonance is apparent when one looks at the often much more formal relational space between the employer and the caregiver.
The home becomes a microcosm of society; the intricacies of moral concern reveal themselves in difficult ways. It helps to take an impersonal stance and ask: Why do some entities deserve more moral concern than others? What kind of bonds are innate? Which ones are complicated by capital; when does tribalism shed its skin and what’s underneath?" - Karmen Cheng
Golden Mean is about the processing and mutation of trauma. The artist observed herself and the people in her life and thought about the narratives that defined them. Watching psychological wounds move on from one host to the next, across contexts, sometimes flouting reason or decency, is a straight lens into the core of humanity– at the end of a long day, everyone just needs to feel empowered.
The number of erasers increases down the chain, following the Fibonacci sequence, a structure that appears in nature and is believed to guide the most harmonious and aesthetically pleasing proportions.