Meat illuminated: Helen Chadwick’s Meat Abstracts

Helen Chadwick, Meat Abstract #3, 1989

Helen Chadwick, Meat Abstract #1, 1989

Alex Van Gelders Meat Portraits brought a couple of other bodies of work to mind for me so, ever in pursuit of an overly obvious link, it seems like a good chance to think about Helen Chadwick’s beautiful but disgusting Meat Abstracts. The extraordinary quality of these pictures really doesn’t come across in reproduction but even so the lushness of the pictures is apparent.

The pictures  are very deliberately put together; with props and fabrics lending an air of  sumptuous theatricality. In each, a careful arrangement of meat has been laid out; each is  lit in part from the single light build positioned within the frame.

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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.

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