Task 3 – Making Meaning

Helen Chadwick – Viral Landscapes

Part 1:

Helen Chadwick born 18th May 1953, was a British sculptor, photographer and installation artist. Chadwick began exhibiting regularly from 1977, gradually building her reputation as an artist. Her rise into the public was established by the inclusion of her work ’Ego Geometria Sum’ in 1983, in a group exhibition entitled ’Summer Show I’ at the Serpentine. In 1990 Chadwick was invited to exhibit in a photography festival in Houston, Texas, where she met a local artist David Notarius. The following year he moved to Beck Road and they married. Chadwick died suddenly at age 42 of a heart attack in 1996.

Helen Chadwick-Piss Flowers

Helen Chadwick with piss flowers, 1992


Viral Landscapes (1988-89)

This series consists of five large scale montages of coastal landscapes. Her enlarged skin cells were used by taking the cells from her mouth, ears, blood, cervix and kidneys. Her work refers to issues such as ecological pollution, the human experience with nature, fear of violence, identity and the boundaries. Her work offers an alternative view of nature. Computer technology was the method used to impose microscopic images of Chadwick’s own body cells across epic photographs of the Pembrokeshire Coastline.




Above are three examples of the work in question.


Artist and Viewers meaning


Helen Chadwick is challenging meaning by being slightly eccentric in using an unusual approach, using cell tissues of her own, this is where the ‘viral’ part of the title comes from. Chadwick has combined each cell group with a visually appropriate part of the coastline, for example the waves are ear bones in one image. These pieces of work are a complex metaphor for change and evolution, the virus and its host prompted by the heightened AIDS awareness of the late 1980s.


When the viewer looks at these images of viral landscapes, each individual will have a different meaning to the image. Some may look at it as the unity of human experience with nature by spreading illnesses, bacteria and viruses, which means destroying nature and the environment around us.

Signifiers & Signified


  • Seascape
  • Bold block of colour
  • Abstract
  • Contrast


  • Un-comfortableness
  • Curiosity
  • Purpose
  • Perception


Other Works by Chadwick

edivourgo (12)

Helen Chadwick, Piss Flowers 1-12, 1991

Part 2:

Colour: Evokes emotion and automatic relationships for the viewer.

Complexity: The more complex an image the more time the viewer will spend on looking at and deciphering an image – a good advertising tool




Colour in photographs using semiotic theory

Tom Hunter


After Party (2000), 48 x 60inches, Cibachrome print

‘Tom Hunter is known for making sumptuous, colour saturated cibachrome prints that illustrate the lives of various sub-cultural groups, such as squatters and travellers, among whom the artist lives and works. Hunter’s concern with the political issues surrounding the rights of all those generally viewed as society’s outsiders was clearly reflected in the series of photographs exhibited at White Cube. With their formal, stylised compositions, partly based on historical paintings, the works have a grandeur and epic sense of scale that belies the modest, low-key events they depict’.

The clever use of colour in this image immediately draw your eye towards the icy blue discarded bed in the centre of the image. This immediately gives the connotations of cold to the viewer creating empathy, the use of light demonstrating the dawn also suggests that this man has been here all night. The signifier in the image is the vast open, almost derelict area in which this image is set and the signified is discarded bed to demonstrate the idea of isolation, loneliness all of which the man in the image is going through. The clever use of colour and saturation does as the above quote states create ‘political issues surrounding the right’s of all those generally viewed as society’s outsiders’, this image forces the viewer to feel empathy and create a backstory, how did he get there? Why is he there? Causing the viewer to question and the use of colour draws the eye through the image creating connotations and assumptions for the viewer, had this of been taken at midday during beaming sunshine, would this image evoke the same message?