At Casa Perfect, Chen Chen and Kai Williams’s Love Affair With Stone is In Bloom
Chen Chen and Kai Williams have been obsessed with stone at least since we met them eight years ago (and considering they’re the sons of chemists and architects, respectively, probably more like since birth.) The first project of theirs we ever wrote about was a set of bookends that cast offcuts from the stone yard near their former studio in cement. (And if you’ve ever questioned the pair’s ability to mix high and low, know that these were selling at the time at Phillips New York.) In the years since, they’ve returned to the material again and again; in 2017, they began tinkering with a technique that involved slicing and polishing stones and UV bonding them to glass to make everything from floating stone tables to their first, experimental mirrors.
Cut to two years later, and the duo have evolved and expanded this technique into their most sophisticated, beautiful, and boundary-pushing collection to date. “Romancing the Stone” debuted last week in a solo show at New York’s Casa Perfect, and it’s unlike anything they’ve done— or we’ve seen — before. The collection is equal parts art and science: For a new mirror series, a silver nitrate solution is poured onto the surface of stone-studded glass and allowed to drift not quite to the edges, creating a reflective halo effect. In a hydra-headed plant stand, a metal structure equally resembles the veins of a plant and the vascular system of the human body. And in the so-called “stone roses” that make up the structure of their lighting system, each “petal” is cut using a saw, not unlike a diamond cutter, that’s been submerged in mineral oil — the trick is to cut them translucent enough to transmit light but not so thin that they shatter. And of course it wouldn’t be a Chen & Kai collection without a bit of dumb humor thrown in — each of their elegant stone axes is named after a line of beat poetry from the 1993 movie So I Married an Axe Murderer. (I dare you to choose between “Harriet! Harri-et! Hard hearted harbinger of haggis!” and “I am Lonely! It’s really hard! This poem sucks!”)
The behind the scenes of this collection is almost as compelling as the real thing — Chen and Williams use what they call “nontraditional sources” to find their stone, which sometimes means selecting offcuts from stone yards but also sometimes means Chen trawling beaches on the north shore of Long Island with a backpack, looking for the perfect specimen. And the biggest crowd-pleaser last week was a glass box that’s been purpose-built as a home for Chen’s pet gecko, Gordon. The collection rounds out with a table cut from a one-ton boulder and an incense burner (the two attempted a set of fountains, but no luck yet.) On view through August by appointment only at Casa Perfect New York — you don’t want to miss this one.
Installation photos by Eric Petschek