The interrelation of sex and death (Eros and Thanatos) is a recurring theme in the Chapmans’ work, indebted to Freud’s examination of the drives controlling human behaviour which revealed the dominance of instinct and thus the illusory nature of free will. Little Death Machine (Castrated) 1993 addresses the mechanical, absurd and repetitious nature of sex, and thus also of desire, and presents it as an essentially futile operation. It also manifests the proximity of sex and death by employing the French term for the male orgasm (un petit mort) as its title. Sex I 2003 and Death II 2004 are from a recent series of paired sculptures that return to the twinned themes of erotic love or lust and death. Sex appears to show only death and decomposition, but there may well be lots of sex going on here among the innumerable creatures – just no human sex. Meanwhile, Death, though appearing to explicitly display sex, consists only of sham human bodies – originally plastic but now cast in bronze that could not be more deathly.
Injury to Insult to Injury 2004 is the second version of a work in which the Chapmans made hand-additions to a copy of Goya’s Disasters of War. This work is often cited as an example of the Chapmans’ taboo breaking gestures, here through the act of desecration of an ‘original’ masterpiece. The fact that these prints were made posthumously (this particular portfolio was printed in 1937), and cannot be said to bear the touch of the artist, reveals the questions the Chapmans are asking about the nature of art production, the notion of originality and concepts of artistic genius. They are also parodying their own status and place as artists. They say ‘there are certain forms of idealism that we are interested in dragging down…’