The intimate South London Gallery offers the perfect space for this intriguing new exhibit by London artist Alice Channer. This intelligent diagnosis of human presence using sculpture and material continuously persuades the viewer to doubt their most primal conceptions of what the human form entails, and how it can be envisioned and presented. The Main Gallery was strategically laid out almost like a map of a body – in this case Alice’s – though, unlike a map, the next destination isn’t always obvious.
You cannot help but notice the soaring and monumental Body works (Large, Cold and Warm) that lead your gaze upwards to the peek at the heavens through the glass ceiling of the gallery. Upon closer inspection, each of these tall works hide something. The first includes twin images of what appears to be a close-up photograph of a human Romanesque statue, but with the arms digitally deleted. Behind you is a paint print of a forearm – both prints contain what the other lacks, but seemingly without what makes them human. Near Lungs, on the back of the third Body, is a pair of photographs depicting smoke rings – an artistic irony that wasn’t instantly noticeable.
On the floor in the centre of the room was Reptiles: bent mirrored stainless steel intertwined with almost unrecognisable leggings made to appear scaled and unnatural. My warped reflection looking down at these curious figures led me to cast my eyes up to the heavens again – this exhibit is not simply ideas on a wall, but ponderings and research that use the whole gallery space so that viewers are forever moving and pondering themselves.
Eyes was the most curious of the sculptures, though also the most simple and recognisable. Channer presents two almost identical small sculptures which, on closer inspection, seem to be made out of waistbands: yet another example of the distorting that the exhibit does to something we all have and think we understand – the human body – almost tearing and sculpting it out of recognition. Channer creates works around something she knows – as most artists do – and what does one know better than one’s body? As you proceed through this exhibition, you’ll question exactly how well you know your own.
This exhibition deforms the body and takes it out of context, addressing the human need to damage our bodies with something beautifully addictive, whether it is smoking, sunlight or doubt, and presents a version of human existence with no obvious sign of a body present. The result is a concern that it is there, ever lurking and ever apparent.
As Karl Marx (quoted on the exhibition display) states, “a commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing”. This is an interesting contradiction, if there ever was one, because Out of Body is not in any way obvious. Even after detailed reading of the accompanying programme, I still found my own conclusions and those of other exhibition-viewers more inspiring than those of the artist, for the simple reason that everybody made sense of it differently. Surely that is a description of a successful exhibition.
Out of Body demands some close attention, or its details and intrigue may be lost. Channer creates something new out of something we all know well, by simply removing a chromosome here and there and mixing them up to create a new body of questions. Interesting and enlightening.