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Helen Chadwick

Artist 104 Helen Chadwick Disquieting Sexuality Carcass

Helen Chadwick ( 1953 –1996) was a British sculptor, photographer and installation artist.

In 1987, she became one of the first women artists to be nominated for the Turner Prize.

Chadwick was known for challenging stereotypical perceptions of the body in elegant yet unconventional forms.

She used the body as a focus of personal identity. The majority of her works are three-dimensional, but she also worked in video and with installations involving slide projections.

She used her own body as the subject of her work. Chadwick's direct approach in making work relating to female identity has been highly influential.

Her work draws from myths to science, grappling with a plethora of unconventional, visceral materials that included chocolate, lambs tongues and rotting vegetable matter.

Her skilled use of traditional fabrication methods and sophisticated technologies transform these unusual materials into complex installations.

Binary oppositions was a strong theme in Chadwick's work; seductive/repulsive, male/female, organic/man-made. Her combinations emphasise yet dissolve the contrasts between them.

Today’s focus is on her Carcass series which is a process-based work made up of a transparent tower over two metres in height, and filled with organic household waste material.

The work is formed through, and physically embodies, abjection, fashioned from the base material of rotting matter. It was originally conceived as one part that addressed the construction of the Ego.

As an emblem of death and mortality, corruption and decay, the tower that makes up Carcass is a form of body, ‘continuous with nature / deliberate mixing of pure + impure’ (taken from the Artist’s notebook) .

By extension, the body here also stood in for a more general decay within the body politic – a social fragmentation played out within the fixed boundaries of the tower.

It was re-installed posthumously at Tate Liverpool in 2014, when the decision was taken to construct the tower out of Perspex rather than glass to prevent such leakage. The tower is reconstructed each time the work is displayed and new organic waste collected.

Through the 1980s and early 1990s an engagement with the philosophy of the abject was common among many artists. Chadwick’s representations of the body as an expression of the cycles of existence as manifested in Of Mutability, and her turn from body to meat as subject in works are evidence of the significance that the writings of the philosopher Julia Kristeva had at this time.

The abject was a way of challenging social taboos and transgressing gender, and Chadwick’s use of rotting mater, bodily fluids and butcher’s meat all suggest disjunction and aberration.



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