In 1986 the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London showed a new commission by the artist Helen Chadwick (1954–1996). The installation interwove some of Chadwick’s characteristic motifs – the female body (her own), the aesthetics of pleasure, the material variety and wonder of natural phenomena – and approached them in a spirit of provocative, radical and lavish flamboyance. In this illustrated volume, Marina Warner examines The Oval Court, one part of the diptych On Mutability. This complex work was erotic, playful, and fierce; it showed imaginative ambition on an exceptional scale and a unique, piquant sensibility, both raunchy and delicate.
Despite the work’s recognition as a feminist monument of rare intensity, The Oval Court has rarely been shown or discussed since the original exhibition, where Carcass the other part of the installation, was destroyed. Warner wrote for the catalogue then, and she here reconsiders Chadwick’s influence as an artist who helped to shift conventional aesthetics and transvalue despised, even abominated forms. Revealing the expansive assortment of historical references informing Chadwick’s lexicon – from Renaissance emblems and vanitas paintings to the sumptuously decorative language of rococo – Warner illuminates the artist’s relentless pursuit of a fresh iconography of female subjectivity. The ideas and ethics behind Chadwick’s visionary and daring art reveal powerful prescience on her part and resonate today more than ever – from her celebratory and interrogatory search for a visual language to express female desire to her inquiries into hermaphroditism and non-binary forms, from her fascination with self-portraiture to her continuous experimentation with unconventional materials.
Paperback 6 x 8 1/2 inches, 112 pp., 34 colour illus., 2022 – £15.99
e-book 112 pp., 34 colour illus., 2022