Alchemy Gallery is excited to announce Machine Theory, a solo exhibition by Chris Chandler.

The exhibition opens on May 11, 2023 and runs through to June 17, 2023 at Alchemy Gallery. An opening reception will be held on Thursday, May 11, from 6 to 8pm.

Machine Theory focuses on the study of relative motion between numerous machine components and the forces that act on them. Chandler adopts elements of this theory with his large-scale printworks, working in modes of deconstruction and reconstruction with modular type and letterpress printmaking.

Machine Theory pays homage to the tools Chandler uses in his practice, namely, a Vandercook 232P letterpress machine, Alpha-Blox, and Futura Schmuck woodcut fonts. Chandler and his father describe his artmaking practice as “Art-Mechanica”, a nod to his beloved letterpress machine and inspiration for the exhibition’s title, Machine Theory. As Chandler puts it “using the mechanics of ‘the machine’ to guide the process of the print.”

Chandler’s printworks communicate an admiration for the Bauhaus and Constructivist movements, and a fondness for the origins of graphic design and typography. Chandler’s sizable works are the product of a deep understanding and appreciation of the tools used in his studio. They reveal Chandler’s intimate connection with letterpress tools of old, and his experimentation with layers of predominantly neutral and primary colors, bold repetitive patterns, and constructing and deconstructing the modular letterpress type. The large-scale and unique pieces that comprise Machine Theory celebrate abstractions of simple alphabetic forms, minor tears and blemishes created by Chandler’s touch, and creases from wheat pasting; a practice carried on from his career as a tour manager in the music industry.

It's an age-old rivalry–man versus machine. It's almost too trite to mention it, boarding on old hat. And yet still, we find ourselves in fear of being conquered—of the machine so seamlessly simulating humanness that even the keenest among us would not be able to tell intellect from the algorithm. Even so, every new technology has its day in the sun before night falls on its formidable novelty. New machines become old machines—from fearsome to humdrum or, worse yet, irrelevant. And what of those that fall to obscurity? It is no longer man versus machine but machine at the mercy of man. And, in this almost tender bond, man begins to learn more of himself through the machine's own vulnerability as glitches and defects turn into intriguing chance encounters.

As a sound engineer for 30 years, Chris Chandler's relationship with technology has long played a central role in his life. However, his real bond with a machine came when he bought his first 5,000 lb Vandercook 232P letterpress in 1996. He taught himself the craft by printing posters and album covers for the bands with whom he worked. It wasn't until after he retired from the road that his practice shifted toward abstraction and into the realm of fine arts. Largely inspired by modernist typography originating out of the Bauhaus, he uses modular-type woodcut blocks to construct his compositions. He often starts with a phrase or a song lyric and organizes the modular wood blocks to spell out the words before slowly deconstructing each letter until all legibility is lost. In this way, he diverges from his Bauhaus predecessors and Maholy-Nagy’s “clarity of the message”. Communicability is here exchanged for more intuitable forms of knowledge, sensed rather than read. Black squares, quarter circles, and triangular points—the building blocks of all possible written words— merge, abut, and overlay to produce new optical effects. This concern with the elemental components of form also harkens back to the forebears of abstraction, most notably Kazimir Malevich. However, Chandler's black squares are less expressions of the supreme reality of geometrism than they are meditations on the boundaries of typographical expression.

Much like the artists of the Bauhaus, Chandler openly embraces the machine in his art. However, unlike the Bauhaus, his interests lie not in mass reproducibility but in finding the irreproducible through an inherently reproducible medium. To do this, he works in collaboration with the machine, merging intention with chance. The tearing of wheat paste stretched too thin creates cracks through the composition, like veins in marble. Running blank sheets through the press to clean off excess ink leaves echoes of the previous print; each echo grows fainter with every pass, a poetic dissolution into an empty page. Or the markings produced from a rag wiped across to clean a block generates a weathered quality. These echos or remnants are layered like palimpsests, one atop another, suggesting a sense of movement, depth, and narrative.

Akin to a Cagian attention to silence, Chandler remains attuned to what his machine quietly discloses during moments between more active thought. Like when he runs the machine, passing the print back and forth through the press. An otherwise rote task provides a moment of generative reflection. He watches as his machine relays his compositions back to him in fragments, upside-down, and backwards—providing insight into new perspectives. Chandler doesn’t just direct his medium and tools, but listens and allows them to inform his practice and designs. The Brazilian neo-concrete artist Lygia Pape comes to mind, who, like Chandler, plays on the material properties of her medium to generate expressive tension in the composition. Chris Chandler’s collaboration with his machine results in a beautiful merging of the organic and the manufactured, where fear has given way to a fertile union between man and machine.

(Words by Bronwyn Roe)