In what has been her "most challenging project to date", set designer, multidisciplinary artist and world-builder Lydia Chan has transformed the curving facades of NOW Gallery in London into a futuristic fantasy world, full of bright colour, AR technology and alien shapes.
Provocative, bold and otherworldly, Your Ship Has Landed reveals Chan's reinterpretation of how we might bridge the gap between our new-found digital lifestyle and our recent renewed experience of the natural world. Pop along to the Greenwich Peninsula venue and you'll be invited to "view nature through the goggles of the artificial, exploring the idea that through isolation in our homes, the natural world becomes more foreign to us," as NOW explains. The idea is that like space explorers treading on a foreign planet, we are all still acclimatising to our new environment following nearly two years of lockdowns, restrictions and vaccines.
It's all there in her signature style, one that she calls "Ultra Maximalist". Of her work, she says: "I am forever the champion of maximalism in a world where minimalism and sensible muted colour palettes reign supreme. I think my style is also quite straight forward. I like objects and things to be what they are. In the past and in my studies I played with semantics and moulded concepts. The work then, would tickle my brain but didn't really stimulate me visually. And while with a bit of thought you can trace the concepts behind my work, my work now is just about the gut reaction."
Chan's exhibition, which opens this weekend and runs until 13 February 2022, is joyful, playful and surreal – just the kind of colour and wonder we need as we drag ourselves through these darker winter months. "I'm lucky to say that these last two years have not affected me as much as it has a lot of other people," she says. "I work and I create and I wear a face covering wherever I go.
"My aesthetic continues to be colourful, narrative driven, sometimes dark and always fun. I think as an artist my work aims to provide a visual escape for the everyday life. The need for an escape remains constant for humanity. In times of distress, people need some place go feel pleasure and breathe joy, in good times the escape provides a space to amplify the positivity in your life."
She adds: "Being stuck at home or living life in many limitations, now more than ever we need a visually stimulating escape. The exhibition is a jolt of fun to re-awaken the explorer and creators in all of us."
It's that kind of jolt that many of us need, now more than ever. And in some cases, more immersive than we could possibly imagine. Thankfully, Chan has collaborated with digital artists Songyee Kim and Thibaut Evrard to create an AR "escapism" experience – one where you can install the filter, hold up your phone and be transported to another world.
Originally from Canada, Chan trained as an interior designer before studying Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins. Her love of monsters, cartoons and designer toys informs her bold, maximalist and often surreal aesthetic. Her inimitable style has established her as one of the most exciting young set designers working in the industry today, with clients including Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, Vogue China, Gucci. She has also recently worked with the likes of Jorja Smith, Griff, slowthai and more.
Chan follows previous exhibitions at NOW Gallery from artists such as Mowalola, Yinka Ilori, Nicholas Daley, Hattie Stewart, Molly Goddard, Camille Walala, Phoebe English and Manjit Thapp.
"We are all a collection of cells like little dots coming together to make a whole person. We try to detach science from our daily lives – but we are bound by the properties of the physical world," she continues. "Having the opportunity to design a large-scale immersive installation at NOW Gallery is so amazing. As a set designer I spend most of my time making 3D objects that get experienced through 2D images. This exhibition is the first time I get to create work that a large audience can experience in a 3D context."
Your Ship Has Landed is apparently designed to "plant a seed of science fiction and fantasy in our subconscious; open up conversations about reinterpreting science as fun; and bring out our inner children," as the gallery puts it.
Chan admits she was given complete artistic freedom to create the installation, a blessing that isn't always the case: "I scale back all the time to meet the creative needs of a project," she says. "I think as a set designer or any creative in the fashion industry, you are only a small part of a whole. My job is to contribute in my unique way to create the best possible image and sometimes that involves scaling back. As an industry we are sold the concept of mega star artist and creatives but we all work in teams and each person contributes to creating the best possible outcome."
Curator Jemima Burrill adds: "Lydia Chan is going to give us the energetic exhibition we all need. For our winter months we are going to be enticing people into a world with both her comic aesthetic and her colourful ethos. Fun is needed. Our objective is to have an environment where people are able to come and perform, dance, pose, whilst also absorbing Lydia's perpetual curiosity in how the world works."