Alice Channer

Pleated fabrics, dresses and made-to-measure sculptures; cigarettes, tailoring and shop windows

The most influential example of the pleat in mid-20th-century couture was undoubtedly Christian Dior’s silk ‘Bar’ suit. Launched in 1947 as part of the designer’s début collection – promptly dubbed the ‘New Look’ by Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow – it marked a shift from postwar austerity to opulent femininity. In 2007, Alice Channer titled her series of room-height works ‘New Look’: elegant and poised, a length of pleated fabric – about a hand-span wide – curves down from the ceiling and trails neatly along the floor. The young London-based artist tells the story of Bridget Riley, who, on the way to an opening in New York during the mid-1960s, was horrified to see an Op art-printed dress displayed in a shop window. How would people ever be able to look at her paintings again? Channer is clearly working with this in mind: as with Now-In (2009), a pair of works from the ‘Scarf Drawings’ series, and Peach New Look (2007), her titles often point to the marketing of the à la mode; to how the sense of ‘the now’ (as well as the past) is both tailored and sold.

Many of Channer’s sculptures and works on paper relate to the wearing and display of clothing or personal adornment. (Fittingly,, the Milan space that hosted her most recent solo show, comprises a disused shop-front – what would Riley think?) From the pleated hanging pieces and snaking lines of stretched bronze bangles to drawings traced around a patterned scarf, Channer’s work often alludes to the characteristics of clothing and is littered with limb- or body-sized gaps. Though sometimes large, these works never engulf the viewer: none are freestanding and they are usually made from either paper or fabric – their concern is a poised sense of form rather than brute weight. (Channer, who graduated in sculpture from London’s Royal College of Art in 2008, refers to the metal brackets in the hanging pieces as ‘inverted plinths’.) Barry Schwabsky has noted that Channer ‘seems to be dressing the architecture’, and her approach certainly suggests that she draws an analogy between buildings and bodies. The fabric pieces, for example, are re-cut depending on the size of the gallery, expanding or contracting so as to fit its height. This isn’t just a case of the viewer (or artist) activating the exhibition space; it is something more domestic, to do with lived experience. To ‘dress’ a room – rather than to fill it, say, or to leave it empty – is to alter one’s relationship to it, to treat it like a person.


Every Seperation is a link, 2009. Stretch fabric and aluminium. Installation view,, Milan. All images courtesy: The Approach, London and the artist.

Every Seperation is a link, 2009. Stretch fabric and aluminium. Installation view,, Milan. All images courtesy: The Approach, London and the artist.

In a short essay she wrote about Barbara Hepworth’s garden in St Ives (published in The Coelacanth Journal last year), Channer noted how, in photographs of the sculptor, ‘it is as if she is actually “wearing” her work’ – a sense that was echoed in the title of Channer’s 2009 solo show in London at The Approach, ‘Worn-Work’. The large wall pieces included in the exhibition were made from layers of paper to which the artist had applied thin stripes of water (Seersucker, 2009). This has the effect of stretching and contracting lines of the surface, catching the light in the subtle crinkles – pleasingly, these all-white pieces are almost impossible to accurately photograph, spurning mechanical reproduction for required presence. Though mostly sculptural, Channer’s work is often involved with the action of drawing, but rarely in the sense of mark-making on a flat plane. Her additions more frequently infuse the surface – as with Seersucker, or the ‘Scarf Drawings’, in which cigarette ash is rubbed in – and only disclose themselves close-up. Using discarded cigarette butts sets up another type of intimacy, redolent of late-night – perhaps even a little faded – glamour. (It’s worth noting that, for the carefully directed premiere of Dior’s ‘New Look’ collection, models were instructed to knock over ashtrays with their pleated skirts.)

While Channer’s work is full of care for the limits of the exhibition space – tailored to its walls, or cut to fit its ceiling – it also points beyond it, to the events and openings that surround the exhibition. This, however, is usually easy to miss. At the private view of Channer’s solo show, ‘That Make-Up Some Things’, at Associates in London three years ago, I certainly didn’t notice that someone was wearing a dress whose pattern was the basis for one of the exhibition’s spectral prints. I was closer to the mark second time around, at ‘Worn-Work’ last summer. On the window sill of the first-floor gallery space, which is above a pub in east London, two tall glasses were placed side by side. Scanning the list of works, I realized that they weren’t mentioned, yet instead of returning them to the bar – from where they might have strayed – I let them be; they seemed like a good fit. Visitors to the opening of ‘Took My Hands Off Your Eyes Too Soon’, a group show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York in 2007, in which Channer was participating, would perhaps have had to look harder. If they had an eye for detail, though, they may well have spotted that one guest was wearing a 1965 Bridget Riley dress.

Sam Thorne is director of Nottingham Contemporary, UK, a contributing editor of frieze and a co-founder of Open School East. His book, School: Conversations on Art & Self-Organised Education, will be published by Sternberg Press this summer. 

Issue 129

First published in Issue 129

March 2010

Most Read

From Linder at the Women’s Library to rare paintings by Serge Charchoune, the exhibitions to see outside of the main...
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
Ahead of the 52nd edition of Art Cologne, your guide to the best shows to see in the city
‘I'm interested in the voice as author, as witness, as conduit, as ventriloquist’ – the artist speaks...
In further news: a report shows significant class divide in the arts; and Helen Cammock wins Max Mara art prize
A genre more associated with painting, an interest in the environment grounds a number of recent artists’ films 
A new report suggests that women, people from working-class backgrounds and BAME workers all face significant...
The divisive director out after less than six months by mutual consent
In further news: Gillian Ayres (1930-2018); Met appoints Max Hollein as director; Cannes announces official selection
With miart in town, the best art to see across the city – from ghostly apparitions to the many performances across the...
From Grave of the Fireflies to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the visionary director grounded fantasy with...
In further news: art dealer and Warhol friend killed in Trump Tower fire; UK arts organizations’s gender pay gap...
Emin threatened ‘to punch her lights out’, she claimed in a recent interview
As the Man Booker Prize debates whether to nix US writers, the ‘homogenized future’ some novelists fear for British...
‘Very often, the answer to why not would be: because you’re a girl’ – for this series, writer Fran Lebowitz speaks...
The artist is also planning a glass fountain of herself spouting her own blood
‘The difficulties are those which remain invisible’: for a new series, writer and curator Andrianna Campbell speaks...
With ‘David Bowie Is’ at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Glenn Adamson on the evolution of the music video – a genre Bowie...
Under a metahistorical guise, the filmmaking duo enact hidden tyrannies of the contemporary age
The area’s development boom isn’t just in luxury property – the art scene is determined to keep its place too
In further news: Laura Owens’s 356 Mission space closes; John Baldessari guest-stars in The Simpsons
With his fourth plinth commission unveiled in London, the artist talks archaeological magic tricks and ...
When dealing with abuse in the art industry, is it possible to separate the noun ‘work’ from the verb?

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018