DuJour Navigation

Behind the Exhibit: “Unhomely” at Friedman Benda

Detroit-based wunderkind Chris Schanck’s colorful statement pieces contain an inclusive message

Chris Schanck’s Technicolor designs may look like genetically modified parlor furniture, but the process he uses to create his genre-bending works is deceptively unscientific. Schanck concocted the technique known as “ALUfoil” as a graduate student Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, transforming readily available materials like metal, foam and aluminum foil into quasi-gilded statement pieces—the subject of his first solo exhibition, “Unhomely,” on view now at Friedman Benda.

A kind of gonzo assembly line, Schanck’s “ALUfoil” process takes place at his studio in the retro heart of manufacturing: Detroit. Beginning with a steel rebar framework, Schanck applies insulation foam followed by a shiny coat of foil and resin.

“Unhomely,” Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Chris Schanck (Photography by Dan Kukla)

Since Schanck’s operation began in 2012, his striking paint jobs have caught the shiny object-loving eye of the fashion industry, taking up residence in Dior and Tom Ford boutiques. While he may have elevated the material to new heights, Schanck’s penchant for aluminum foil is homegrown; growing up in Dallas, Schanck’s father worked at an aluminum plant. “Aluminum was really my family’s livelihood, so to me it was endlessly valuable,” Schanck says. “It was what gave my dad and his coworkers a sense of purpose and dignity, and yet when I went to the factory floor it felt sort of mythical because of the scale.”

And while, materially speaking, Schanck’s studio may reflect the golden age of domestic manufacturing, it is in fact a testament to the Detroit’s more inclusive next chapter as a capital of art and industry. Reflecting the diversity of the surrounding Bengaltown neighborhood, Schanck’s studio employs seven Bengali women, whom he calls his “finishing specialists,” each highly specialized in applying his futuristic works’ final touches.

“Unhomely,” Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Chris Schanck (Photography by Dan Kukla)

“[They spend] thousands of hours applying the foil. They have collectively invented their own tools and techniques for the process,” he says. “Their skill set has surpassed my own in this regard; most of the team comes from a textile background in Bangladesh, and they bring a masterful understanding of materials and process that contributes to the quality and care of everything we do.”

Banglatown, 2018 by Chris Schanck [American, b. 1975]

Besides playing a literal creative role, the local immigrant population also serves as a kind of muse of Schanck’s work, particularly in one piece dubbed “Banglatown.” And while it may look like it survived a nuclear meltdown, the piece’s inspiration was in fact the surplus of lush greenery cultivated by Schanck’s neighbors. “Things are unregulated; my neighbors have built gardens on their roofs, and they’ve taken abandoned lots and made lot-sized gardens,” he says. “To me, my neighborhood very much feels like a living organism. It’s cultural and it creates some kind of network or system of living. I wanted to explore all of that.

Main image: Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Chris Schanck (Photography by Dan Kukla)