The seductiveness of pollutant industries is both contested and adopted in Alice Channer’s ambitious two-part exhibition “Heavy Metals / Silk Cut”, which, in a historical first, spans both the Kunstmuseum and Kunsthalle in Appenzell, Switzerland. At the Kunsthalle, “Life Without Air,” 2022–23, a series of drawings in Silk Cut cigarette ash, each overlaid with tiny, fish-egg-like plastic microspheres, points to the artist’s memory of violet silk slashed Fontana style in a 1980s Saatchi & Saatchi advertising campaign for the tobacco brand. Cancerous forms of a different sort can be found in Planetary System (Kolzer DGK63”), 2019_, _a steel carousel used for aluminum-coating car headlights loaded with scores of metallized crab shells. For Mechanoreceptor, Icicles (red, red) (triple spring, single strip), 2018, more than two hundred casts of the artist’s finger, dipped in bewitchingly glossy red plastic, hang like factory parts on a production line. Channer’s deliberate use of her own hand conflates subject with object, suggesting that we are not in fact alienated from the theatrics of mass production, but unwittingly entangled in them through our appetites and pleasures.
Leaking across two rooms of the Kunstmuseum, Rockpool, 2023—a floor sculpture in the shape of a satellite image of the 2010 BP oil spill—contains rock salt extracted from the surrounding Swiss mountains. Channer exploits landscape and industry interchangeably for material and process. In Birthing Pool, 2019 a room filled with black pellets of recycled HDPE plastic invites viewers to sit amid these small nuggets of former children’s toys and shampoo bottles. The sticky ubiquity of oil pervades, most alluringly in Channer’s coquettish puddles of lamé fabric, a formal refrain throughout both shows. Coiled in ripples that evoke fingerprints, digital scanners, and the iridescence of screens and petrol slicks, these silk works mirror the natural furrows of the shells and fossils embedded in their folds. Pangolin, 2019, UV prints on the blinds, jar these precipitate sediments of industry against the slow geological backdrop of Appenzell’s alpine landscape.