The Art of Helen Chadwick

“architecture, identity and the body” (Walker 2013, p.187).

Helen Chadwick’s work is mainly installation art, these installations often incorporate a number of techniques including sculpture, painting and photography. She is known for her manipulation of unconventional materials such as household waste and her own DNA in order to generate a response from her audience. Chadwick’s work is often symbolic and inspired by her own personal life experiences. Chadwick was not only an artist but also a ‘model’ in a lot of her work, as she displayed herself as part of her sculptures, exploring and exploiting her body to create original and personal designs. She was often criticised by feminists for using her own naked body within her work, to which she responded that her aim was to “not make images of the body, but the cell, that would somehow circumnavigate that so called male gaze.” (Chadwick, 2004).

Some of her most famous works were Oval Court (1984-86) and Piss Flowers (1991-92). Oval Court is a floor collage which includes large three dimensional golden balls that sit upon an array of pictures. These pictures are photocopies of Chadwick’s nude body, posing from different angles to create different distorted shapes. Around her body were photocopies of flowers and fruit, meat and dead animals. The effect of the photocopy was to emphasise the intricate details on each object, and manipulate the unique shading effect which photocopying creates in order to reassemble the images for dramatic effect. The objects were displayed in various ways around her, some with provocative associations in the way she placed the objects on or next to the more intimate areas of her body. This provoked many different reactions from her audiences, which was often the purpose of her work as she “deliberately sets up and ‘irritates’ a plethora of standard contrasts with a myriad of serious implications.” (Sarafianos 2005, p.7).

oval court

(Photo: Google Images – Oval Court, by Helen Chadwick. Accessed 6 December 2013)


  Piss Flowers is another piece of work that generated controversial reactions. This fine art piece consisted of flower shaped sculptures assembling casts displaying the effect of depositing urine onto snow. These sculptures aimed to portray the “fluidity of gender roles” and the “meeting between body heat and meteorological frost” (Sarafianos 2005, p.3). The idea came from her own life experience that her and her husband shared on a winters evening in which they urinated in the snow. The sculptures capture the different texture within the materials used, with the white flowers standing out against the green floor, representing grass, in the gallery which they are displayed. The phallic shaped centre to the flower implies a strong provocation towards gender and sexuality. Her work is seen as surreal and absurd, and equally unique as it is bizarre.

piss flowers

(Photo: Google Images – Piss Flowers, by Helen Chadwick. Accessed 6 December 2013)


Works Cited

Sarafianos, Aris (2005) Helen Chadwick, the ‘shorelines of culture’ and the transvaluation of the life sciences. Papers of Surrealism, (3) 1-13. Available from, [Accessed 6 December 2013].

The Art of Helen Chadwick (2004) [DVD] London: Illuminations.

Walker, Stephen (2013) Helen Chadwick: Constructing Identities Between Art and Architecture, London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.


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