Helen Chadwick: Piss Flowers 2016
Piss Flowers are a group of bronze sculptures – enamelled white to imitate plaster – that resemble flowers. The making of the sculptures however, required the strategic use of the other material invoked in their name.
Piss Flowers is considered to be one of Helen Chadwick’s most important sculptural works. They were shown at the Serpentine Gallery in 1994 as part of a solo exhibition titled, tellingly, Effluvia.
During a residency at the Banff Arts Centre, Canada in 1991, Chadwick and her partner David Notarius made daily visits to snowbound locations. There they would place a flower-shaped metal mould onto a mound of snow, taking turns to urinate into it. They then poured plaster into the shapes created. From these casts, bronze versions were made and mounted onto pedestals resembling bulbs. The downward path of the hot urine through snow is inverted to form a flower reaching upwards.
Crucially the work also inverts a gendered symbolism, for it is Chadwick’s urination that yields the phallic pistil at the centre of each Piss Flower. The artist saw these works as romantic insofar as they are a “metaphysical conceit for the union of two people expressing themselves bodily.”
Piss Flowers are at once repulsive as they are beautiful, and it is this combination that typifies Chadwick’s work – aesthetic beauty created out of an alliance of unconventional, often vile materials.
British conceptual artist Helen Chadwick embraced the sensuous aspects of the natural world, breaking taboos of the “normal” and “traditional” in art historical pedagogy. Her influence upon a young generation of British artists was cemented through her teaching posts at the Royal College of Art, Chelsea School of Art and the London Institute.
Her experiments with material were innovative and unconventional and captured a world in a state of flux. Piss Flowers (1991-92), in which she cast the interior spaces left in the snow by warm urine, are at once repulsive as they are beautiful, and it is this combination that typifies Chadwick’s work – aesthetic beauty created out of an alliance of unconventional, often vile materials.
One of the first nominees for the Turner Prize in 1987 her work is included in the Tate Collection as well as the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, NY.