Helen Chadwick

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For the British musician and singer, see Helen Chadwick (musician).
Helen Chadwick
Helen chadwick.jpg
Helen Chadwick
Born Helen Clare Chadwick
(1953-05-18)18 May 1953
Surrey, England
Died 15 March 1996(1996-03-15) (aged 42)
Camden, London, England
Nationality British
Education University of Brighton,
Known for Conceptual art, installation art
Movement Feminism

Helen Clare Chadwick (18 May 1953 – 15 March 1996)[1] was an English conceptual artist.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Chadwick was born on May 18, 1953 in Croydon in London, England.[1] She studied at Croydon College of Art, The Faculty of Arts and Architecture Brighton Polytechnic and then at the Chelsea School of Art.[1]


Beck Road, Hackney, where Chadwick lived

As a young artist, Chadwick lived in Beck Road, Hackney,[3] where one of her first London friends was another resident of the street, Maureen Paley.[4] Paley and other friends took part in Chadwick's first London show, a feminist performance entitled In the Kitchen, by strapping themselves in a canvas model of a cooker.[4] Chadwick guided Paley in the conversion of her home into a space for art exhibitions.[4] Paley said, "Helen was always talking about craftsmanship—a constant fount of information".[4]

She has often been identified as a feminist, with several of her works addressing the role and image of woman in society, especially in her postgraduate days and alongside her colleague and friend Elaine Shemilt.[5][6] Her work often reflected her sometimes uneasy relationship with her own body and her partner's body, using organic materials, such as meat, flowers and chocolate. She is perhaps most famous for Piss Flowers (1991–92), bronze sculptures cast from cavities made when urinating in the snow by both Chadwick and her husband David Notarius.

Earlier works include Viral Landscapes, a series of photographs from the late 1980s where blotches (actually magnified images of cells from her body) are superimposed over landscapes, and Meat Abstracts (1989) large photographs of meat juxtaposed with leather and fabric.

Right from early art school, I wanted to use the body to create a sense of inner relationships with the audience.

To look at her work in the context of art history it is interesting to see the differences between her approach to her own body and the way the female figure was used in the past.

"In Ego Geometria Sum: The labourers X" of 1984, she is attempting to use her body in a decorative or seductive way, attempting to lift a large box covered with a picture of her own body, she is literally struggling under the weight of her own image and self-importance, which was something perhaps doubly applicable to her as both a woman and an artist in the public eye.

Her largest and most complex work was a two-room installation at the ICA, London, in 1986. A catalogue was published with essays by Marina Warner and Richard Cork, with detailed photographs of parts of the installation.[7] In the centre of one room was a large oval dais or low stage, covered with twelve life-sized images of Chadwick's own body, juxtaposed with animals, plants, objects, foodstuffs, etc. The images were composites made with blue A4 photocopies, made directly from her own body and from the various other objects. By using A4 size photocopies she was able to manipulate and subtly shift the images. Five golden spheres rested on the dais, corresponding to the finger placings of a huge imagined hand. A photograph can be found in this article:[8] On the walls of this room were printouts of computer-rendered drawings of the Baroque columns from the baldacchino of St Peter's in Rome, photographic images of the face of the artist weeping, and an ornate mirror of Venetian glass. This room was named 'The Oval Court'. In the other room was a square glass column, about 4 ft wide, filled with decaying compost. This room was named 'Carcass'. The work was bought by the Victoria and Albert Museum under the name 'Of Mutability', but the medium is given as 'photocopy' alone.[9] A documentary film about the making of the work was released in 1987 [10] Chadwick was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1987.

Whilst in her earlier work she questioned the role of the female body in art as a decorative object, just as decorative and aesthetic ideas about art themselves had been questioned in the 20th century, in the late 1980s she changed saying, "I made a conscious decision in 1988 not to represent my body. It immediately declares female gender and I wanted to be more deft."

Chadwick thereby abandoned this practice to become more visceral and moved inside the body to human flesh, and what is common to all of us but which we avoid thinking about. However, she did not abandon the themes of sexual identity and gender identity. Her Cibachrome transparencies of 1990 entitled "Eroticism" depict two brains side by side.

In 1995, Chadwick took up an artist residency in the assisted conception unit at King's College Hospital, London, photographing IVF embryos rejected for implantation.[11] She used the photos in Unnatural Selection, a series on which she was working when she died.


Chadwick died in 1996 in Camden, London from a viral infection that weakens the heart muscle, preventing it from pumping. The virus was contracted while she was working in a hospital.[citation needed].


The first major retrospective of Chadwick's work was held in 2004 at the Barbican London before touring to Manchester, Denmark and Sweden.[12] Richard Saltoun Gallery, London, held an exhibition opening May 2013 to mark what would have been her 60th birthday.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Buck, Louisa, "Obituary: Helen Chadwick", The Independent, 18 March 1996. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  2. ^ Fineart profile
  3. ^ http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/what-a-swell-party-it-was-1335102.html
  4. ^ a b c d Beckett, Andy. "What a swell party it was", The Independent on Sunday, 2 June 1996. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Self Expressed: Self Images by Diana Blok & Marlo Broekmans, Helen Chadwick & Mark Pilkington, Jill Crowley, Rose Garrard, Peter Lloyd-Jones, Mary Mabbutt, Hiro Sato and Elaine Shemilt
  7. ^ Chadwick, Helen (1986). Of Mutability. London: ICA London. ISBN 0 905263 17 0. 
  8. ^ Hubbard, Sue (1996). "Changing the Landscape of Sculpture". Contemporary Arts, n 13. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  9. ^ "Helen Chadwick, 'Of Mutability'". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  10. ^ "Helen Chadwick: Of Mutability". BFI. Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  11. ^ http://www.doyma.es/revistas/ctl_servlet?_f=7264&articuloid=13171659&revistaid=600 'Body Matters' by Colin Martin. The Lancet Vol.363 Núm. 9423. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  12. ^ http://www.barbican.org.uk/bie/archive/helen-chadwick
  13. ^ "Helen Chadwick: Works from the Estate". Richard Saltoun. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 


  • Helen Chadwick, Mary Horlock (contributor), Eva Martischnig (contributor), Mark Sladen (editor) Helen Chadwick, Hatje Cantz Publishers (July 2004) ISBN 3-7757-1393-X
  • N.P. James (Editor) Helen Chadwick CV Publications (September 1, 2005) ISBN 1-904727-45-X
  • Helen Chadwick Enfleshings Aperture Book (November 1989) ISBN 0-89381-394-X
  • Helen Chadwick Stilled Lives Portfolio Gallery (December 31, 1995) ISBN 0-9520608-3-3
  • Of Mutability: Helen Chadwick (exhibition catalogue, London, ICA, 1986)
  • Effluvia: Helen Chadwick (exhibition catalogue, essay M. Allthorpe-Guyton, London, Serpentine Gal., 1994)
  • Rideal, Liz, Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by women artists 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 September 2001 – 20 January 2002), p. 101
  • Rideal, Liz, Insights: Self Portrait 2005, p. 17
  • Rachel Jones, "Helen Chadwick and the Logic of Dissimulation", in: Margret Grebowicz (ed.) Gender after Lyotard. NY: Suny, 2007.

External links[edit]

(some of these links are dead and need to be researched again)