Soft Sediment Deformation, Upper Body (quilted gray) 2018 is a diptych of heavy Crepe de Chine fabric that has been printed on and then pleated using a specialist pleating technique that is usually reserved for the fashion industry. The printed image is complicated by the rows of chevron pleats in the fabric, which produce an image that looks like the creases in the palm of a hand or a stretch of quilted grey fabric. In the left panel of the diptych, the image runs full bleed across the fabric. In the right panel, approximately two-thirds of the fabric’s area is covered by the image. In both panels the full width and breadth of the fabric is pleated, giving the work the texture of fish scales and producing a pixelated effect.
The image rendered in the work is a photograph of the Crackington Formation, a section of quilted granite rock which forms part of the Devon coastline in the south-west of England. The geological process behind such a rock formation is called ‘soft sediment formation’, a tern Channer inverts in the work’s title. Channer printed the image of this rock formation on to the Crepe de Chine fabric, which was then laid onto a pleating mould, compressed and steamed at high temperature until it took on the shape of the mould.
The artist imagines the pleating process to be similar to the geological processes involved in the formation of the rock. Describing her work on the occasion of her exhibition A Coin in Nine Hands’ Part 5 (Carapaces) at Large Glass, London in 2018, in which this work was included, she wrote: ‘In these new works … I want to mimic a geological process that happens on a massively non-human scale using industrial processes (pleating, printing) that are usually used to make clothing and that operate on a human scale. This is a deliberately outrageous conflation of scales and kinds of body.’ (Alice Channer, unpublished exhibition text, 2018.)
In her exhibition at Large Glass in 2018, Channer set herself the question: ‘Can I pleat rocks?’ This interest in transformation and translation was already apparent several years earlier in her exhibition at the South London Gallery in 2012. In a conversation with the artist published at the time, curator Sam Thorne described a series of translations that were visible in the artist’s work, ‘from three dimensions to two; from sculpture to image; from heavy stone to a kind of silk; from floor-based sculpture to hanging pieces.’ (Sam Thorne in South London Gallery 2012, p.47.) Soft Sediment Deformation, Upper Body (quilted gray) incorporates all of the translations described by Thorne: the two-dimensional representation of heavy stone printed onto soft silk, transformed by high pressure and heat into something sculptural yet pliable – ‘quilted granite’. Through the folding and pleating process Channer inverts and complicates these elements, equating the industrial fabric technique with a sculptural one and drawing similarities with the intense natural and geological processes involved in rock formation.
Channer’s pleated works illustrate her exploration of the relationship between the human body, adornment, materials and sculpture, as well as her long-standing interest in natural and industrial production processes. One of her first pleated sculptures, entitled The New Look 2007, was shown as part of the exhibition Strange Solution, in the Art Now programme at Tate Britain, London in 2008. Soft Sediment Deformation, Upper Body (quilted gray) was the first work in which Channer combined printed images with the pleating process. She has also incorporated geological formations into other recent work, including the large-scale projects R o c k f a l l, commissioned by Aspen Art Museum in 2015, and Burial 2016.
Katharine Stout, Strange Solution, Art Now, 2 February–13 April 2008, Tate Britain display leaflet, unpaginated.
Chris Fite-Wassilak, Quiet Revolution, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Touring, London 2009.
Sam Thorne, ‘Alice Channer in Conversation with Sam Thorne’, in Breathing, exhibition catalogue, South London Gallery, London, 2 March–13 May 2012.
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