Alice Channer: Out of Body

Martine Rouleau
South London Gallery, London,
March 2 – May 13, 2012
Alice Channer Out of Body, South London Gallery, London, 2012.
photo : Andy Keate, courtesy of the artist and South London Gallery, London
To describe Out of Body as a smattering of limbs and organs would be both accurate and unsatisfactory. Indeed, the works might be titled Eyes, Arms, Thighs and Lungs but they exist as a whole from which no one element could be severed. There is a curatorial unity to the exhibition — orchestrated by the artist — which lends it the cohesive character of an installation, a body of work as well as a metaphorical human body. 

Yet this human body is not represented in any kind of figurative manner. There is, rather, an absence of the body, a suggestion of the incarnated presence of the artist, as the work bears the trace of her own physicality and its relationship to materials. “The work is me,” Channer says, “breathing, feeling and thinking with, through, and as part of, the processes and materials that make up the industrial world that I live in and that constitute my work.”

Cold Metal Body, a large distorted digital print of stone-carved drap-ery, illustrates this indivisibility. The stone rendition of fabric, itself printed on heavy crêpe de chine strung from the ceiling, is so manipulated as to be abstract, leaving the interpretation open to the viewer. Engaging with Cold Metal Body requires a certain movement of the body, a stretching up and stepping back that assigns to the viewer the responsibility to perform part of the work. The more one moves around the hanging structure, the more it reveals itself: at the back of the piece is the black imprint of a ghostly arm. Reasserting this synergy between body and work with a touch of humour, Channer peppered her sculptures with such traces of herself — almost signatures.

The artist’s masterful permutation of materials is also present in Amphibians and Reptiles, two structures of mirror-polished stainless steel, cast aluminium, marble and… tights. The reflective semi-circular shapes of these works undulate off the floor, as if arrested mid-slither. They first appear to be machined into hard, shiny perfection, but uncanny elements soon emerge to disrupt the smoothness: hand-carved irregularities in the marble columns and aluminium casts of tights curved as if they were crawling, their deflated shape evoking the human presence that activates the machine of industrial production, vulnerable yet essential.

At times, Channer’s work is reminiscent of that of Eva Hesse or Barbara Hepworth, yet she creates a tension that is both compelling and unique. The play between the figurative and the abstract, between per-sonal experience and cultural references and between the handcrafted and the manufactured is at the heart of Out of Body. It makes a potent case for the body redefining the world beyond the reach of the human mind. 

Alice Channer, Martine Rouleau
This article also appears in the issue 75 - Living Things

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