Despite a somewhat inauspicious location on the Caledonian Road just a few blocks away from Pentonville Prison, Large Glass art gallery has quietly established itself as one of London’s most intriguing and thoughtfully curated spaces. And the current show of new work by British artist Alice Channer only further cements this reputation.
Channer has long been on the art world radar for her sculptures and textile works that explore the relationship between the human body, personal adornment, materials and sculpture. Both couture and high street clothing have featured in her work; in the past she’s made casts of leggings and used vintage Yves Saint Laurent designs as an inspirational starting point.
At her Large Glass exhibition, entitled Carapace, Channer turns to crab shells and Crepe de Chine. The way in which she treats these unorthodox sculptural materials confirms her long-standing interest not only in both natural and industrial production processes, but also in making the organic and the man-made forge new, hybrid relationships.
Alice Channer, ‘Crustacean Satellites’, 2018 Vacuum Metallised Spider Crab (Maja Brachydactyla) and Brown Crab (Cancer Pagurus) Shells on Stainless Steel Jigs CREDIT: PHOTO: STEPHEN WHITE/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND LARGE GLASS
The title Carapace refers to the hard armoured shell which covers and protects the backs of encased creatures, and the term is given literal and dramatic expression in Crustacean Satellites, a sculpture that suspends racks of brown crab and spider crab shells from the ceiling at the front gallery.
The dangling columns of shellfish have been metallised to a shimmering silver by the same industrial vacuum process that is used to make the reflective backs of car headlights — as well as accessories and other decorative objects. The aluminium coating not only gives a shiny uniformity to the crustacean’s repeated forms, but also renders each shell exquisitely unique, accentuating every individual nodule, dimple and spike.
Pegged onto what appear to be stylish retail display units, these gleaming exoskeletons are in fact attached to the same stainless-steel spindles that were inserted into the airless, electrically charged, scorching metal-vacuuming chamber.
Alice Channer, ‘Linear Bivalves’, 2018, Vacuum Metallised and Laquered Mussel Shells on Custom Jigs CREDIT: PHOTO: STEPHEN WHITE/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND LARGE GLASS
Occasionally their shiny ranks are punctuated by a single shell left in its original state. This acts as a reminder that all these silvered shells are not immaculate replicas but organic matter, albeit now smothered in a fine and impenetrable aluminium membrane. Whether this is to their benefit or detriment is left an open question.
The natural also fuses uneasily with the man-made in two pairs of works made from heavy Crepe de Chine, sub-titled Upper Body and Lower Body. The pieces have been printed with photographic images of rocks strangely shaped by an evocatively-named geological process called soft sediment deformation, that gives them a padded, quilted appearance that could also be the lines on the palm of a hand.
The surface of the slippery fluid silk is then further complicated by repeated rows of chevron pleats, which from a distance gives the effect of rippled water or the armoured scales of a fish.
Alice Channer, ‘Soft Sediment Deformation, Lower Body (quilted gray)’, 2018, Diptych: Chevron Pleated Ink Jet Print on Heavy Crepe De Chine CREDIT: PHOTO: STEPHEN WHITE/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND LARGE GLASS
Although the specialist peating process is usually associated with the fashion industry Channer sees it as an equivalent to traditional sculpture casting; it is produced by sandwiching the fabric into a mold made from two interlocking pieces of card and then heating it in steam.
The end result is seductive and mesmerising, resembling folds of flesh and skin as much as fabric and rock. As Channer herself has put it, in order to navigate our turbulent and rapidly changing world “the 21st century needs objects that are vulnerable, uncertain, other, alien.” And in her powerful new work this is exactly what she is offering.
‘A Coin In Nine Hands’ Part 5 (Carapaces) by Alice Channer at Large Glass, until 28 April; largeglass.co.uk