Helen Chadwick

Above: One of the photos from Helen Chadwick's series In The Kitchen from 1977. Credit: Richard Saltoun Gallery.

My Teacher

One measure of a genius work-of-art is of its having a quality of being ageless. Of having been made beyond time, or outside of time. Even after decades passing, the work still looks like it could have been created yesterday. You hear people say things like "it still seems as fresh today as it was when it was created," or "it feels timeless," and although such stock-phrases were long ago appropriated by the marketeer, the quality they refer to is real--and is one frequent component of a genius-level artwork.

Helen Chadwick was my teacher at Goldsmiths. She was a brutal teacher, and I was in awe of her. I still am, God Rest Her Soul. In The Kitchen is a series of set-up studio photos by Helen from 1977. The photos are on show at the Frieze Art Fair this week. The artist produced a series of restrictive objects--sculptures made from elements found in an ordinary domestic kitchen. And then photographed herself in a state of being vulnerable, stymied within them--restrained and constrained by domesticity. The objects are like objects-of-torture in a torture-chamber, and the artist a suspect being submitted to innovative torture techniques (i.e., the life of a housewife-homemaker can be torture, and is a form of barbarous restriction on a woman's freedom).

One of the photos in which the artist is limited by an electrical hob (illustrated above) is an example of this agelessness idea. One simple test for ageless is to change the year of creation for any art-piece under review to the current year, and see if the new date is at all plausible. In the above photo I would say that the image easily passes the test--it could have been made in 2018, this year. Whereas, on the other hand, another brilliant and comparable artwork by Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, from 1975, is very definitely of-its-time and any such date change is not really tenable.

Also, Helen's image is far more compelling and shocking than any of the countless photo-works made by later Brit-feminists like Wearing, Emin or Lucas. All of their Cunt-this and panty-shot-that, bovver-boots and mawkish neon-rendered phrases, don't ever sting me sharply in the way that this above photo does.

(4 October 2018, revised 8 October 2018, with thanks to Charlotte Hockton for the Martha Rosler reference.)