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Alice Channer, Worn-work, installation view, the Approach, London, 2009
Courtesy: the artist and The Approach

Every separation is a link

by Caterina Riva

Every separation is a link is the title of the site-specific work that English artist Alice Channer will present, from December 1st to December 17, in a little shop-window in via Pastrengo 13, Milan. It is the second of the series of Showreelproject’s solo shows, a project curated by Paola Caravati with the aim to present the work of young international artists inedited in Italy.

I am really curious to hear more about your project for in Milan: how you have approached it and how it unfolded on a practical and on a conceptual level. What I find really interesting about your work is how it really responds to a place. And since you will be dealing with a peculiar space, that is not really a gallery nor an exterior, it means another audience will be encountering the work. I am curious to know if that informed at all the development of the project. I guess you could say every place I show work in is a frame, and for this particular project it is literally a frame – I have been given a window to show work in. I have been considering how shallow it is and its limitations were what drew me to it. I am really interested in edges and limitations and using those things as materials, so it is those characteristics of the space that I will be working with. As far as the work being a response, I have been thinking quite a lot about how my work functions in physical terms. People seem to be using the term “site-specific” again in art now, but I wouldn’t describe my work like that. My work is responsive, but it is not a response; I learnt this from the solo show, ‘Worn-work’, I made at the Approach gallery in London this summer. All the works that were in that show will be shown in other places and will be recognizable then as themselves, only their dimensions will be different. In my hanging fabric works for example the height of the ceiling will always change; the works will stretch, they expand and contract. The work is stretchy, and in this sense it is supple and responsive and it increases my awareness of what surrounds it.

Alice Channer, Material, 2009
courtesy: Courtesy: the artist and The Approach

I was listening to an interview you recently gave and you said that yours is an attempt at making something for the present and that you consider your works as contingent entities. The works rely heavily on presence – I need to be there to place them, and you need to be present in the room with them, so they have a very particular relationship with time. The work is an attempt of making visible the gap between one thing and another and that gap in many ways is the gap between the subject and the object. So there is a sense in which the works are not contingent – they stretch to fit the dimensions they are given, but they remain recognizable as themselves, as objects, sculptures. When I was thinking about the show I was reading Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace. She writes that “Every separation is a link”. She is describing two prisoners in adjoining cells separated by a wall that they use to communicate. I thought about using that phrase as a title for the show. The wall remains solid, it remains a division, but it is turned into material. I want to my works to do the same thing to the window for
What I also really like so far about the project is that in all the documentation you can see a reflection of the person taking the picture in the glass of the window and I am curious to see how that will work in relationship to my work.

I am thinking of this idea you were mentioning before of ‘the negative space’, that allows to see things that seem common or straightforward in new ways. Highlighting the potential they retain. I would also be interested in hearing more about the shift from square edges, the corners that were very present in your show at the Approach, while the new works you seem to have embraced more round edges. The thing that has been exciting about working with curves is the process of making them. It takes more than one person to make a curve. With edges it is a very linear, rational process, you cut the metal at the certain size and then you just weld it together. To make these curves, first I have to make a drawing, then I bend the metal and that entails two people working together, it is a more human process involving feeling, movement and judgment.
What the new curved works can do that the edges couldn’t is to become an equivalent of me when I am looking at them. I have been working with pairs in these works, and I imagine them as equivalents for the eyes or for the lungs. The body is made up of these paired organs and as I stand in front of the work, these pairs of organs in my body are expanding and contracting, breathing in and out. The paired works attempt to mimic this dilating and contracting happening in the body, and my work for will try to do this too.
The work consists of a pair of aluminum curved ellipse shapes, one slightly smaller than the other, that will be shown side by side within the window. Each has a fabric cover stretched over it. I imagine them as an equivalent for the eyes or the lungs. And the logical conclusion is that, standing in front of them, I will be both in the window and outside the window. When I look at it and into it, I will at the same time be very aware of both the limit and the feeling of movement across it.

Alice Channer, Now, In, Untitled, Untitled, 2008
courtesy: Courtesy: the artist and The Approach

The other aspect that I would like to stress is the bodily relationship that your work creates. The work is very much yours but the process that gets to it, relies on people’s crafts. I remember you saying how you always go the same pleating company in London and it feeds into when we were discussing collaboration and the human relationship that seems to complete the work. Did you choose a specific fabric to go on top of the oval structure? I am not sure if I chose it or it chose me. Materials seem to work for me when I can find a way to let them guide me rather than the other way around. I am working with this orange color, that is really funky and that is quite hard to wear, quite an artificial color, and the fabric is stretchy. It’s awkward as a clothing fabric and I think that’s why it works so well in the sculptures. I sew it into a very long narrow tube that is then stretched around the ellipse shape, tight in some places, and extremely bunched up and concentrated in others.
All that we have been discussing, the color, the pattern, the shape, the body is there in a very concentrated way: a compressed and stretched fabric, very narrow that exists as potential. And all these qualities are why I keep coming back to this pleating process in the works I make using pleating, literally folding and concentrating fabric. I think what art offers for my concentrated works is a space for amplification, and this is one of the things that drew me to Showreel too - I really like the fact that the show exists for just a week in a very limited space, and then the place goes back to being a shop.

I am not really interested in defining your work as painting or sculpture but I think what it does for me is offering a conceptual stance. It being condensed, presented as an essence, seems to me the crux of a conceptual work. My work does relate to conceptualism in the way in which it is condensed, but I don’t think that what it offers is an essence, it’s more disobedient than that. I keep going back to an encounter I had with a classic conceptual artwork by Michael Asher: Vertical Column of Accelerated Air. This work exists now as Asher’s writings and diagrams that describe the work in a dry, scientific rational way. His writing outlines how the work consisted of an industrial air conditioning unit hidden in the wall of the gallery so that visitors would feel the sensation of moving air on their skin as they passed it. Reading this description in the library, my experience of the work was very sensual and immediate. It was a brilliantly inappropriate, intimate response to have to Conceptual Art. I am seduced by the term dematerialization but I also find it problematic. I want my work to be present here and now, I don’t want it to be somewhere else. At the same time the kind of materiality and presence I want for the work is not completely literal or straightforward. This was the orthodoxy in the sculpture school where I studied, but my experience of the world simply isn’t like that.

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