Enfleshings I and its partner, Enfleshings II (Tate T06877), are large, rectangular cibachrome transparencies, sandwiched between glass sheets, mounted on the wall and back-lit by fluorescent strip lights. Four brass fixings, visible on the front of each, hold the layers in place. They were made in editions of three, of which these are both number two. They may be exhibited individually, although the artist has stated a preference for them to be displayed together as a diptych. Each image is an enlarged close-up view of raw meat. A light bulb containing an illuminated coil is embedded just below the centre of the meat in Enfleshings I. Fissures in the flesh below it evoke vulvic openings. The steak in Enfleshings II has striations resembling the delineation of pectoral muscles on a male torso. Chadwick wrote: 'As object Enfleshings embodies selfhood as conscious meat. I = mc². I am my mass or meat times the power of my light. This is being pared down to a synthesis of energy and matter that is "living meat". A red mirror.' (Quoted in Effluvia, p.11.)
Chadwick's work of the early to mid 1980s focused on the female body in relation to a variety of props, exploring identity through autobiography, geometry, classical mythology and the natural world. She depicted her body, in photographic and sculptural installations, as aligned both with nature (landscape, the animal world, decay) and culture (geometry, architecture). In the late 1980s she began to move away from overt self-representation. In her series of Viral Landscapes 1988-9 (estate of the artist), smears of cells from her body which contained viruses were superimposed onto photographs of rocky coastlines. At the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, she produced a series of Meat Abstracts in February 1989. These are polaroids of still lives composed of offal, drapery, and electrical lights. Shortly afterwards she made Enfleshings I and II, the first in a series of eleven photographic lightboxes titled Meat Lamps. Eroticism 1990 (Tate T07411) is another work in the Meat Lamps series. Anatoli 1989 (Tate P11269) is a print by Chadwick in which an electrical light filament, virtually identical to that in Enfleshings I, appears against a meat-textured ground.
Chadwick said of the Meat Lamps that they are 'intimate encounters with equivalents for our bodies. We read them as a kind of equivalent for a human organism I think, or a projection of what we feel about our bodies.' (Quoted in Stilled Lives, [p.62].) She aimed to make work which represents the female subject as thinking and feeling, not merely an object as historically depicted in art. In Enfleshings I consciousness is represented by the electrical light, which carries with it notions of energy and enlightenment. Situated in the lower centre of an expanse of red flesh, it posits a mind located viscerally, in the groin. This subverts the traditional philosophical and theological mind-body hierarchy in which the mind and thinking are believed to be elevated in relation to the lower functions of the body. Enfleshings I and II, individually or together, provide a powerful assertion of consciousness as centred within the body rather than operating from a detached and superior position in relation to it.
Thomas McEvilley, Richard Howard, De light: Helen Chadwick, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 1991, [pp. 6,7,10], reproduced (colour) [p.11]
Effluvia: Helen Chadwick; exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1994, p.11, reproduced (colour) plate 26 [p.61]
Marina Warner, Louisa Buck, David Allan Mellor, Stilled Lives: Helen Chadwick, exhibition catalogue, Portfolio Gallery, Edinburgh 1996, [pp.7 and 62]
June 2000/September 2001/October 2002