Helen Chadwick

Enfleshings II


Helen Chadwick 1953–1996
Transparency on lightbox
Object: 1066 x 915 x 180 mm
Purchased 1994

Not on display


Enfleshings II and its partner, Enfleshings I (Tate T06876), 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 of Enfleshings:

If materiality is the pursuit of the enduring finite, then perhaps the only acceptable materialism is libidinal - the discharge of energy that occurs in touch. Neither simply one nor two, here is the incidence of a mutual twinning, a doubled being. Relations are ambiguous, in excited equilibrium, pared down to the reciprocity of energy and matter that is "living meat" … At its most bald, this is our fleshhood - a red mirror tracing the continua of separation and union that is the exotic corollary of our coming into being … all we have is exchange, the heat of our physicality as impulse to activity, a bestial reason to counter the ruptive forces of mind and money valued over body.
(Quoted in De light, [p.10].)

In February 1989, as the result of a commission by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Chadwick produced a series of Meat Abstracts. 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. The Meat Abstracts and Meat Lamps reflect on the nature of the metaphysical self through a representation of flesh (or the body) as a thinking subject. 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. In Enfleshings II, although the steak's lean muscle evokes masculinity and machismo, Chadwick's photograph of it emphasises its soft, tactile qualities. A fissure in the lower half of the muscle has vulvic associations which, coupled with the pectoral muscles delineated in the upper half, suggest a sexually ambiguous body. As a couple, Enfleshings I and II provide a powerful assertion of consciousness as centred within the body rather than operating from a detached and superior position in relation to it.

Further reading:
Thomas McEvilley, Richard Howard, De light: Helen Chadwick, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania , Philadelphia 1991, [pp.6,7,10,11]
Effluvia: Helen Chadwick; exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1994, reproduced (colour) plate 25 [p.60]
Marina Warner, Louisa Buck, David Allan Mellor, Stilled Lives: Helen Chadwick, exhibition catalogue, Portfolio Gallery, Edinburgh 1996, [pp.7, 62]

Elizabeth Manchester
June 2000/September 2001/October 2002