Text by Alice Miller
The current displays at the Hepworth Wakefield present the work of Alice Channer, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, and Linder. Laid out in three distinctive solo exhibitions, the displays are ostensibly unrelated, yet the within the work of each artist there is a thread that can be traced to Hepworth.
Newly created for the Hepworth gallery, Alice Channer presents a series of uncanny sculptural works under the collective title Invertebrates. Taking the shifting spineless body as her starting point, Channer has created her own coterie of eccentric lifeforms. Inhabiting a space usually devoted to the permanent display of Hepworth sculpture, Channer’s sculptures sprawl and stretch out across the gallery space, collectively forming a body of sorts. The majority of Channer’s works stay low to the ground, slinking and spreading across the floor with a subtly of form. These sleek and minimal objects may not conjure the same level of majesty as a Hepworth, yet they generate their own distinctive presence, commanding the space with confidence.
Channer explores the sculptural potential of unstable and fluid bodies using an eclectic range of materials, from luxury silken fabrics, to polished steel and machine-cut marble. Shaping, casting and solidifying that which is usually characterised by mutability, Channer shrewdly uses solid objects to convey a sense of liquidity. For several works Channer takes garments such as leggings, maxi dresses, and jeans, and casts them in polyurethane resin to fashion a horde of serpentine creatures. Devoid of bone, these flattened forms hang and drip from the walls like limp bodies of translucent skin. Other sinuous bodies can be seen undulating across a spine of steel rods.
Deploying artifice and ambiguity, Channer manipulates the synthetic and machine-made to embody ambiguous organisms, seemingly organic yet ersatz. In one work, severed fingers cast in bronze and aluminium rest upon curved sheets of polished steel, resembling growth-like protuberances. In another, accordion pleats of metallic lamé hug and fold themselves around sharp steel edges, in a parasitical manner.
The biomorphic bodies continue into the next exhibition, yet here they move from the aquatic realm into the domestic one. In contrast to the idiosyncratic minimalism of Channer, Jessica Jackson Hutchins’ large-scale sculptural assemblages sit rudely in the space, with a messiness of form. Bringing together a diverse mix of materials, albeit a more traditional mix than Channer, Hutchins incorporates painted canvas, ceramics, and worn-out furniture to create unruly compositions. Using
the quotidian materials of daily life, such as sofas and armchairs, Hutchins constructs dramatic interior landscapes that play host to a set of lumpen ceramic bodies.
Central to the exhibition are three painterly sculptures. For these Hutchins has cloaked industrial ladders with painted and collaged canvases, forming structures that sit somewhere between painting and object. Painted with a palette of earthen hues, these works are highly evocative of landscapes, and Hutchins uses the ladder supports to give the suggestion of mountainous forms. In one particular work, Hutchins’ places three of her corporeal ceramics atop the canvas structure. These perched globules of organic matter sit like bodies in the land. Bringing us back into the domestic space, these loose arrangements of canvas casually thrown over ladder also bring to mind scenes of household painting and decorating. Yet the image of domesticity that Hutchins conjures is far from cosy. Embracing the ugliness of tattered materials, Hutchins generates a sense of everyday chaos
Of the three artists, Linder’s work most explicitly engages with Hepworth. For her section of the exhibition, Linder presents two collections of new collage works. The first is a set of irreverent collages made through a synthesis of 1970s Vogue fashion photography and images of catalogue furniture. Sinks and staircases merge with the styled bodies of glamour, and sofas and coffee tables are casually adorned as if the height of fashion. However, it is within the second room of collages, displayed in light-box format, where Linder’s engagement with Hepworth is brought to fullest realisation, giving the resultant works greater indelible impact.
Best known for her pornographic punk collages made in the late seventies, Linder’s early works are characterised by abundance. Set within suburban interiors, naked bodies are shown corrupted by cosmetic product and defiled by domestic appliance. Linder creates a celebratory excess of depravity, as food, flowers and kitchen utensils become eroticised appendages. As if caught in
moments of perverse play, these wicked fusions of flesh and household object are seen to perform deviant acts. Combing elements of the banal with the bawdy, these collages revel in a seedy sensuality.
At the Hepworth, Linder’s new light-box collages explore a different kind of sensuality. Echoing the sculptural austerity of Hepworth’s abstracted figures, Linder has forgone the use of pornography, giving us bodies which are refined and poised, elegant and well behaved. Instead of presenting sexualised flesh and bodily orifice, Linder evokes the smooth and pierced forms of Hepworth’s sculptures with the taut composed bodies of ballet dancers. Linder’s source material has been generated from Hepworth herself, from her personal passions for dance and fashion, as well as the natural world and its relation to the human form.
Employing found photographs of 1940s ballet dancers and uniting them with imagery taken from nature, Linder creates a skilful symbiosis of forms. Human, animal and plant coexist and merge together in harmonious arrangements. In one work human and bird coalesce to share a single eye. Bodies paused in moments of dynamic movement or dramatic pose are intersected by the vibrantly coloured bodies of birds, frogs and snakes. Displayed within monolithic free-standing light-boxes, the collages stand as sculptural forms in their own right. The only light in the room emits forth from the images themselves, which works to intensify their captivating quality as the collages bust into the darkened space with brilliant luminosity.
Concurrent to the light-box montages is a sound collage by Maxwell Sterling, which can be listened to via headphones whilst moving through the gallery space. This component of the installation works to profoundly to enhance the imagery. Low abstract sounds and reverberations are woven with the rhythmic clanks of chipping and carving, and become pierced by birdsong. This montage of visceral sounds is then punctuated by Hepworth’s own voice, as she eloquently speaks of her practice, ruminating on the principles of sculpture and its relation to the landscape. By submerging her collages within the voice of Hepworth, Linder has fostered a posthumous collaboration, as Hepworth is conjured up within the space. As Linder wraps and folds her work in the voice of Hepworth, the astute philosophical reflections of Hepworth resonate through Linder’s sensorial imagery. The rhythm of dance comes to speak of the rhythms of the landscape. Just as Hepworth speaks through the collages, the collages speak with the language of Hepworth.
Alice Miller is a History of Art postgraduate and writer based in Leeds.