• Boundless art

    Interview with Chaney Diao

We dive into a flow without genres and classifications. Different artistic expressions are mixed and blended to create meaningful performance and sensory experiences. The body as protagonist is expressed without limits, provocative and fetishistic themes are explored to make us reflect and overcome all  restrictions.

Your art defies classification, blending different fields. Are there unexplored realms you’d like to delve into?

Coming into fine art with a fashion background, this journey does inspire me a lot in posing questions about what people mean when they use the same word art or fine art. It is interesting also to observe that the separation or the tension between disciplines still exist within different industries. I remembered when I was still holding a fashion (design) practice, I was reading books like ‘art and fashion’ or Caroline Evans’ ‘fashion at the edge’ within which fashion scholars all identified how art and fashion has been historically separated from its definition, function and industry itself. But there are moments when categories do oscillate and become one or become illusive. Those moments to me are exceptionally alluring and holds its power.

This question does make me think a lot about if there would be realms I wanna delve into and this doesn’t seem to be an obvious one. I think I tend to use various mediums (this includes performances, music/dj, game, sculpture, painting…) to observe how my practice would take forms. However at the same time I never thought about those mediums/forms necessarily indicates my desire of moving into a new realm or being conceived with a different title besides an artist. On top of all these, I think there’s one scene I want to be more engaged with – DJ. Mixing is something to me, regardless of the limitation on what party may want certain genres of musics, shares a great similarity to archiving or sourcing. And at the same time this practice challenges the concept of originality (or “To produce”) and works with the idea of (sonic) aesthetic similarities and story telling which is very similar to fashion from my perspective. I am in this way just intrigued by how much knowledge I would learn from holding a practice like this.

Your passion for music production and the rave scene is apparent. What was your initial connection to this world?

I started clubbing or raving quite young even before I came to London to start my foundation in 2015 when I was 18. It begins with few older friends bringing me to parties which are more like clubs in China and I didn’t like it much and then I was introduced to an underground party venue in Shanghai called Shelter (current ALL Club). In that night my friend’s friend Illsee is playing minimal/dark wave/IDM stuff, not in very high BPM though, and I loved it so much. This is the first time in my life I was introduced to some very cold and industrial techno sound, and later I started my own re/search on electronic music genres. There’s of course more exploration upon venues, but I think I have always remained someone who goes after DJs or music. The more I raved the more I experienced rave as a great sense of connection within its own temporality. In 2016, Shelter hosted its last party and closed forever. On the night of venue’s closing party ravers refused to end the party and they started to dance on the street. This is unseen or unheard of in China. Although only being able to observe this through internet, I share the same sentiments of those who were there dancing in person. I think this kind of extreme energy and sentiments we all experienced through raving is what gets me going on and on.

Concepts of transformation and mutation are evident in your works. Tell us about your creative process. Are there specific techniques or tools you prefer to work with?

I had a period within my practice to be focused very much upon my own queer identity. It is during that period of time I started to look into the contemporary readings to the science fiction classics from a queer or trans perspective. It is within those studies, body horror is the genre that speaks to me the most. I guess from a personal level, along my grownup journey, I always enjoyed David Cronenberg, Alien series, within which the idea of mutation and transformation was depicted repeatedly. Also aesthetically I was just intrigued. I tried to work with some AI during this period as well, which I fed my own sourced images into it to train it and then generated few pictures I used later within the process of etching as plates. It is through this process images that’s been produced and technologies that’s been involved became blurred. Causing an object that’s hard to be identified.

Tell us about your experience at the ACall Festival in London: a glimpse of what you brought and your interpretation of the theme.

When I first heard from ACall festival and has been introduced about its theme, I thought there’s a lot shared interests upon a broader theme of “desire” and “underworld”. Although in my own practice I didn’t use the term techno-mythology specifically, I work a lot with technologies (like 3D scan, print, AI tools) as part of both artistic and making process. Those workflows have been reflected by for instance using data fed AI trained by myself as visual references for the making of a dysfunctional dec 1.

In response to all those thinkings, I thought my latest body of work around fetish, power and desire within the narrative of rave would be the best fit for ACall 3. With few months of preparation towards the show, as well as, making new works, in the end I showed both the existing speaker wall piece bpm and a new sculptural work a dysfunctional dec 2. bpm is a work I finished this June as part of my degree show which is both a wall size sculpture piece and a 10 hour long sound piece remixed from most played DJs within London’s current rave scene. a dysfunctional dec 2 is a new “variation” of its series’ first generation. Made with PVC pipes inspired by the DIY culture of home made fetish vacuum bed technique instead of its first version in metal and ReBar, this work contains my latest exploration on DIY fetish culture and further deconstruction upon references of DJ table as symbols of desire and power play.

Strong and provocative themes are present from your first fashion collection to your latest artworks. Do you notice significant differences or evolutions from the beginning?

My instant reaction is – the most significant difference might just be age related confidence and how well I handle a project that is extremely ambitious.

When I made my probably most known collection (as people sometimes still mention that to me), it was in 2019 when I was 23 and on my final year of CSM BA fashion. It is also through that year I got to meet Reba Maybury as visiting tutor, who made my interest in fetishism and BDSM unveiled. At that stage of my life, I never thought about my theme around bdsm and fetishism to be provocative as it was developed from an extremely personal starting point, although realised at a quite late stage of my life while encountering Reba. Probably unlike many other stories behind a strong collection of CSM students, my one involves a lot self exploration, mentorship, and being naive about not knowing how ambitious it is in achieving a collection like this. I was just lucky enough to achieve a strong collection even with few things I couldn’t realise in-time due to technical difficulties in casting. Since I moved into fine art, I am more confident about the theme I’ve been working upon and witnessing the concept of fetishism has been broadened and becomes more subtle. In my latest work Threshold, I worked with multiple mediums including sound, game, sculpture and even an actual party happens in parallel to the show. From day one I know this is going to be an extremely ambitious project as it involved both new technologies I’m not that familiar with and sourcing external venues. This correct estimation really helped me to understand how much time, labour and knowledge this project would require to be realised from the beginning, which in return enabled me to achieve everything pretty close to the plan.

Your art is alive and performative . What would you like to see more in the world of contemporary art?

With my only few years’ performance experience across varied occasions – including show PV, performance night as part of bigger art programmes, or music and live event venues. My biggest reflection is that contrasting to those music venues, performing in relation to an art event is most likely to face situations with less sound and AV support as well as a problem with sound system or even licensing upon sound volume. As the live and performative element of my work is very much related to the quality of the sound, this would largely influence how well people would be able to experience it in the way I would like it to be. This is defiantly from a performers’ perspective, but it will be amazing to see those considerations to be put in place by the organisers.

The other thing that I would love to see more is to see how performance or live art can be nurtured into something that holds longevity while in display . Everytime when I performed as part of an art event, most likely I would be part of the show as well if there’s one. It is very interesting to observe the separation of participating a live event and of the show under the context of gallery display. Although it is not rare to see a lot performance artists to display their performing props and objects in their future exhibitions as a form of documentation, it is still out of my personal interest to question the tradition of this distinction. I kind of feel many other artists and curators may share this interest as well. I was extremely inspired to encounter Tiffany Wellington’s latest solo Grey Area with Studio/Chappel gallery in Deptford, London. The show almost contains nothing you could consider as made works, it contains assets that’s going to or has been used as part of past or future performances. I personally think this is a very brave and inspirational experimentation facilitated both by artist and curator that I would absolutely love to see more in the world of contemporary art today.

Themes of fetishism and overcoming limits find their place in museum and exhibition settings, as seen in Threshold. Tell us about this recent work and what it reveals about you and your vision.

In Threshold, the gallery space is transformed into an extracted scene from underground rave. Comprising of an immersive speaker wall installation, a large-scale DJ table-like sculpture, two light boxes, and a game that mapped upon the reality of the space, Threshold explores fetishism towards high bpm (speed) and intensified physical workouts relating to the idea of edging within the the narrative of hardcore rave and/or dance floor. Threshold also extends beyond the gallery space into a virtual game that mapped upon the physical install and a rave party with an expansive artistic interest upon power and consistency relating to varied sites and their history.

Do you already have your next step in mind? Is there a particular project or message you want to work on?

There are few shows I’ve been penciled in, which I have something to work towards. But also I really truly feel that my “plan” for next year in my mind should be a reflective one. I’ve carried on studying for many years since fashion and then now fine art, but I haven’t really had a time to be out of uni. Also at the same time, with becoming a fine art practitioner, there’s quite a lot shared confusions and challenges upon how to sustain, full-time or part-time making art, in what pace to produce, etc. I don’t necessary see those questions to be negative ones, instead I really want to take the advantage of freshly out of uni to reflect those. I also started a curatorial project called DUMP with Yu Li, which we hope to tackle issues of artwork storage due to studio move outs, end of uni, or more varied issues our young artist community experienced collectively.

Chaney Diao / Boundless art


Artist: Chaney Diao / @chaney_dms
Interview: Annalisa Fabbrucci / @annalisa_fabbrucci
Editor: Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko

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