All images: Alice Teeple.

Multidisciplinary NYC artist Alice Teeple reinterprets Victorian mourning practices as spiritual alchemy for the modern day, in her first solo exhibit, Solve et Coagula, opening Friday, at Chinatown’s Shelter Gallery. 

Teeple’s exhibit explores this theme through use of alternative process photography, textiles, paper sculpture, recreations of 19th century funeral memorabilia, and needlework. 

From Alice Teeple’s Solve & Coagula.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, the inventor of the stereoscope, eloquently portrayed photography as an ‘alchemical instrument,’ blending past memories with a reflection of contemporary social reality. ‘Solve Et Coagula,’ which translates to ‘nothing new can be built without breaking old patterns,’ underscores this sentiment. 

“We are simultaneously expected to “carry on” and stay productive, even in the face of perpetual conflict, loss, and sorrow,” Teeple says. “Where do we channel our grief? How does this callous dismissal affect us as a society?”

Inspired by the spirit photography created by her relative Theodore Teeple in the 1870s, she melded digital photography with 19th-century processes. After photographing a series of Victorian-inspired imagery with models Adrian Sexton and Joseph Keckler, Teeple joined forces with her mother, Michelle Teeple. Together, they crafted a collection that encompasses textiles and cyanotype “sweetheart cushions” adorned with semiprecious gems and intricate gold needlework.  

“People think it was weird that Victorians took postmortem photos and kept pictures of tombstones, or locks of hair,” she says, “but today people film TikToks while visiting graves or clutching urns. They’re still making mourning jewelry with cremains and posting tributes to lost loved ones. Grief, human nature and hope for connection have not changed since the Victorian era.”

Teeple collaborated with NYC artist Katie Frank, engaging in traditional fabric dyeing and the revitalization of heirloom textiles from Frank’s family. In doing so, the collection pays homage to the reverence of the past, while acknowledging the spiritual evolution of the collective.

“Quilts hold love and energy in each stitch. They keep us warm, memories remain in the scraps; they are family histories.”

Teeple also hand-embroidered ‘energy healing stations’ to incorporate the power of sound, then enlisted electronic musician Jay Ackley to wire these stations, allowing them to illuminate in response to specific sound frequencies. 

“I wince a bit at the term death-positive, although I agree with the sentiment,” Teeple says. “I think of this collection more as acceptance of transformation. Now, more than ever, we need time and space to allow ourselves to mourn and heal.”

Solve Et Coagula opens 15 December 2023 at Shelter Gallery (127 Eldridge Street) and will run through Jan. 21, 2024.

Alice Teeple is a music journalist for, in addition to her roles as a freelance photographer and music video director.