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Piss Flowers, 1991–1992
Having graduated from Chelsea College of Art in the late 1970s, Helen Chadwick quickly garnered acclaim for her innovative treatment of materials that were often applied, or transformed, using complex techniques in her photographs, sculptures and installations. In 1987, Chadwick was among the first female artists to be nominated for the Turner Prize, one of the United Kingdom’s most prominent visual arts awards. Despite her tragically premature death at the age of only 42, Chadwick’s extensive teaching practice – at the Royal College of Art, Goldsmiths, Central Saint Martins and Chelsea College of Art – led to her being a major influence on younger generations who debuted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including several who were part of the Young British Artists phenomenon.
Displayed outdoors, on a high terrace behind Muzeum Susch’s main building, Piss Flowers was originally created during Chadwick’s residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta, Canada, in 1991. The artist and her partner, David Notarius, took turns urinating in the snow and the resulting negative shape was then cast in bronze and covered with white cellulose lacquer. Celebrating the transformation of organic matter into a prestigious sculptural material, which is then covered with an artificially-produced snow-coloured layer, the work also reflects the destabilisation of natural systems that has occurred in recent decades. The twelve, flower-like shapes – conflating polarised notions of revulsion and allure, mischief and sobriety – are, to quote Chadwick: ‘not devised in the conventional way, they are not things made, they are the products of things that happen, chance things, even if there was a kind of predetermined script or choreography for how they were made. They’re as implausible as the delicacy of an elephant, or the way a bumblebee can fly; it shouldn’t be, but they are, and it does it.’