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From the MAO archive: Helen Chadwick’s Viral Landscapes in 1989

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Our sixth post in the #MAOarchive series looks back to 1989 when Helen Chadwick’s Viral Landscapes filled the gallery. The show consisted of a panoramic frieze, measuring four feet in height and 50 feet in length, of new photographic works by Chadwick. 

Helen Chadwick, Viral Landscapes, installation view at Modern Art Oxford, 1989. © Modern Art Oxford

Chadwick layered photographs of the Pembrokeshire coast with enlarged microscopic patterns made from the cells of her own body, and gestural images created by having the sea wash coloured pigment onto the canvases.

Helen Chadwick, Viral Landscapes, 1989. © Modern Art Oxford

The resulting ‘Landscapes’ suggest an analogy between the human body and nature, exploring the crossover between ecological pollution and human sickness.

Helen Chadwick, Viral Landscapes, 1989. © Modern Art Oxford

Greatly influenced in the late 1980s by the terrible anxieties surrounding the AIDS crisis, Chadwick made a visual link between the uncertain boundaries of land and sea, and the fear of the violation of the human body, perhaps by a virus invading a living cell.

Helen Chadwick, Viral Landscapes, 1989. © Modern Art Oxford

Her intention in making these works was that the ‘Viral Landscapes’ propose an aesthetic for these very real anxieties. In other words, Chadwick’s work offers us a visual lens through which to engage with our fears and – starkly relevant today – perhaps a visual language with which to navigate our complex physical and emotional experiences of the current crisis.

Follow #MAOarchive on Instagram to discover more memories from the gallery’s history.