Magazine article Artforum International

Helen Chadwick: Barbican Art Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Helen Chadwick: Barbican Art Gallery

Article excerpt

Ego Geometria Sum (I Am Geometry), 1983, is the title of the first body of work to have earned Helen Chadwick significant attention. Leonardo, who inscribed his ideal male body in the overlapping figures of the circle and square, would undoubtedly have been pleased to have made such a statement, but it's harder to know what the intellectual reduction involved in geometricizing the human form implied for the English artist, who died in 1996 aged just forty-two. Mark Sladen, the curator of this first retrospective, follows critic Michael Newman's interpretation of the work as evoking a "classical and rational heritage," but one might equally see in it a quasi-Romantic alienation. Its ten large plywood forms are highly schematic reductions of everyday objects--a boat, a couch, a baby carriage--covered with ghostly photographic images, many of the artist herself, nude. The organic body hardly seems in harmony with the geometric forms on which it has been overlaid; rather, its poses seem to express an unfulfilled yearning to conform themselves to their own structures of desire. In a follow-up sequence of photographs, Ego Geometria Sum: The Labours, 1986, Chadwick, again unclothed but with her face always hidden, is shown grappling with the objects, often (though she looks rather athletic despite her petite build) uneasily pitted against their cumbersome bulk.

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Ego Geometria Sum and its continuation constitute a powerful body of work, updating '70s-style body art by subsuming performance to sculpture and photography. Yet Chadwick's development from this point on is disappointing, largely because of a surprising insensitivity to the photographic medium, and more specifically through a weak conception of its physical presentation. Not that she doesn't try to deal with the issue; many of her works take the form of shaped light-box transparencies, while others are placed in heavy colored frames. …

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