Helen Chadwick

Interim Art

Take a hunk of graphically red meat, a light bulb, and you have the female body—this, at least, is one initial impression given by Enfleshings, 1989, two powerful pieces by Helen Chadwick and the centerpiece of this small exhibition. Beck Road, site of the exhibition, is itself a part of the mixed media Chadwick uses as a feminist/photo/video/performance/installation artst. A run-down street of small Victorian terraced houses in an area of London designated for redevelopment, its domestic character reinforces the personal aspect of the work. Several houses here have been rented to artists (including Chadwick) and a photograph of the street formed the basis for an earlier work by the artist—Three Houses: A Modern Moral Subject, 1987, which juxtaposes images of Beck Road, the House of Commons, and the countryside.

Downstairs here is a piece called Ecce, 1987, in which a decorative cartouche is projected onto a sculptural silhouette of a human ear, pierced in the center by a red tungsten light bulb. By projecting light, Chadwick reveals form and introduces an episodic sense to her material. The two Enfleshings pieces, described as “light-works,” comprise large Cibachrome transparencies lit from behind by a light box of fluorescent tubes; the large, powerful, blown-up images are stark and striking in their simplicity. A piece of vivid red meat is read as the female sexual organs, stabbed by a light bulb. Human flesh is shown in its proximity to animal flesh; as such, it creates a somewhat uncomfortable response in the viewer. This exploration of flesh can be seen as the latest progression in the artist’s explorations of the body, and as a disquieting depiction of male social attitudes toward woman.

In previous work, Chadwick has explored her own body, from The Oval Court, 1986, which positioned the self in terms of the myth of Leda, to the “Lofos Nymphon” series, 1987, in which images of the artist and her mother were projected against a backdrop depicting her mother’s native Athens and contained within the egg-shape form redolent of fertility and motherhood. Enfleshings continues the descent below the skin of last year’s series, “Vital Landscapes,” 1988–89: images of blood tissue projected via computer onto photographs of the Pembrokeshire landscape. The series expresses a common contemporary concern with viruses and immunologies, but also the artist’s interest in locating the body in place.

In the sense that Chadwick has now gone beyond images of her external self, Enfleshings is less obviously autobiographical and more abstract than earlier work. In the use of animal flesh rather than her own image, the artist has become more distanced from her individual body, and her work has taken on a more universal aspect.

Natasha Edwards