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Chris Schanck's 'Off-World' displays contemporary talismans of the netherworld
‘Off World’ an exhibition by Chris Schanck
Image: Courtesy of MAD museum and Chris Schanck

Chris Schanck's 'Off-World' displays contemporary talismans of the netherworld

From a dressing table coated in aluminium foil to a bench inspired by a cemetery, the MAD museum mounts the otherworldly works of Chris Schanck.

by Ayushi Mathur
Published on : Jul 23, 2022

Chris Schanck looks beyond the existence of the earthly worlds and taps into an inconceivable world while working out of his studio in a former machine shop. A dozen otherworldly pieces by the Detroit-based artist are currently on display at the MAD museum, New York in a new exhibition titled ‘Off-World’. With eerie figures, unique materials, and strange contextual allusions to the past, present, and speculative future, Schanck's work seems to have come directly out of science fiction. Though the vibrancy of the sculptural furniture and utilitarian objects translate the viewers’ vision into an illustrious storybook, the context behind each of his creations is philosophical and weighty. The exhibition has been curated by Andrew Blauvelt, director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, with extended support from Friedman Benda.

A view of the exhibition Image: Courtesy of MAD museum and Chris Schanck

“My works exist on a spectrum, on the one end they are practical and functional, and on the other, they are aspirational and speculative–a blend of reality and fantasy,” says Schanck. As a very successful contemporary artist, Schanck has always managed to adorn the grey area between art and design through his surrealist furniture pieces. His practice not only personifies the depth of his thoughts but also his ethical and innovative practice involving unique materials such as foil and resin, an extraordinary team of Bangladeshi craftsmen and rigorous refinement of form. His pieces are modern totems with an essence conquered from different eras in time. While the name of the exhibition is inspired by Roberta Rogous’ 1991 book Future Speak, the items in reference are a lens into the magical and metaphorical world of Chris Schanck.

The grotto mirror Image: Courtesy of MAD museum and Chris Schanck

The Mortal Bench

While the world suffered the ghastly consequences of the Covid-19 Pandemic, Schanck pondered upon the unavoidable clause for each life: death. The source of inspiration for the mortal bench came to him when he thought of lines relating ‘Off-world’ to the afterlife. The free-flowing shapes, a figurative reference to the mythical maiden of death and the conceptual reference of the bench to a communal seating arrangement for people waiting for death. What appears to be a sinuous purple four-seater bench, has a meaning so profound that would even intrigue the weeping angel. The bench is a growing idea in Schanck’s mind for sculptural art and seating arrangements for a cemetery.

The mortal bench Image: Courtesy of MAD museum and Chris Schanck

The Curbed Vanity

With this gleaming piece of furniture, Chris Schanck demonstrates his mastery of the creative process as he painstakingly decorates a whole vanity with his distinctive alufoil. The studio’s artisans burnish thin pieces of aluminium foil to the furniture’s structural armature to present an object as divine and lustrous as the curbed vanity. Chris created the dressing table using objects acquired from his immediate neighbourhood and converted a very traditional form of furniture into a modern work of art. Deftly melding the innovative material with a contextual reference to time, he creates a piece that despite being immobile, appears to move through the metaverses, radically distorting the structure usually associated with a dressing table.

The curbed vanity Image: Courtesy of MAD museum and Chris Schanck

Eye of a Little God

What appears to be just another sinuous, ornamented mirror, was actually conceived by Schanck’s mind in a divulging conception of ageing as a hard-hitting reality. He articulates his work with a reference to Sylvia Plath’s poem Mirrors and enables the audience to pause, reflect and respond to the relationship between physical deterioration and ageing. The mirror is beautifully coloured in shades of blue with an apparition of a young damsel on one side and a fading old dame on the other.

The Invasion low table

As one of the most colourful pieces conceived by Chris Schanck’s mind, the invasion low table draws inspiration from the mythical characters of Romulus and Remus, the twin offsprings of the cosmos. According to the legend, Romulus killed his twin brother in a fit of wrath despite their codependent bond. The low table, despite having only a basic utilitarian purpose, is a very potent illustration of the cryptic lore described in the epics.

The invasion low table Image: Courtesy of MAD museum and Chris Schanck

The shuddering cabinet

Uplifting a very simple piece of furniture that he created using an oriented strand board, the American artist created the shuddering cabinet adorning it in a foamy, bubblegum-oozing sculptural piece. Giving it an unconventional colour combination, Schanck achieved a look of a crumbling encrusted piece of stone. Even though it appears to be slightly disturbing and gory, the cabinet remains as a true masterpiece in its own right.

The shuddering cabinet Image: Courtesy of MAD museum and Chris Schanck

Among the aforementioned sculptural pieces of furniture, Chris Schanck also displayed his Puff chair, Grotto mirror and console, the Cryo II cupboard, the Fluorescence lamp and a few other creative furniture pieces. The American artist takes his ability to visualise to enthralling new heights and elevates art to ethereal status.

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