Sensory overload

Helen Chadwick, Cacao, 1994

I guess I’m still thinking about chocolate – it is still Easter after all – but yesterday’s post also left the desire/disgust dichotomy firmly in my mind too so today’s post being about Helen Chadwich’s work might easily have been predicted. And where better to start than with Cacao, Chadwick’s 1994 chocolate fountain. At first sight the work looks like a mud bath of some sort and the spluttering as air bubbles through certainly sounds a lot like the bubbling mud of a hot spring. But things aren’t quite that simple. Firstly there’s the central column to consider: it’s hardly reminiscent of a decorative fountain with water falling prettily, indeed it appears deliberately and somewhat comically phallic. But it’s not really the way the work looks and sounds that I remember most vividly – though both are clear in my mind – it’s the heady smell of chocolate that fills the space. So much chocolate and none of it for eating! Ultimately then, this is a work that looks and sounds slightly unpleasant and has a smell that quickly becomes cloying, and yet I’ve always wanted to stay with it longer than is strictly necessary.

Loop my loop, 1991

Chadwick’s photographic work is seldom less than visually seductive, yet even as it draws me in I am often repulsed by it. In Loop my loop, the contrast between the shiny beauty of the hair and the intestines with which it is intertwined is disturbing but picture wins me over before I register its darker side.

Piss Flowers, 1992

Ultimately though I think the work of Chadwick’s I like the most – though probably not, I think, her best work in any vaguely objective sense – is Piss Flowers. These sculptures are painted bronzes made by Chadwick casting the gaps made by her and her partner David Notarius pissing in the snow. For me the pleasure here comes partly from the disjuncture between the beauty of the objects and the manner of their making and partly from the simple fact that they make me laugh.

Piss Flowers (installation in Serpentine Gallery)

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