BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 03 MAR 00
Featured in
Issue 51

Daniel Chadwick

BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 03 MAR 00

As relaxation and contemplative beauty are the antitheses of so much contemporary art, Daniel Chadwick's wish to give such pleasure constitutes a rebuff to the art world. The joke is compounded by Damien Hirst's catalogue essay, in which the fatigued businessman - the one for whom Matisse made his art to be 'like a good armchair' - turns out, in an understated irony, to be the wearily-seated Hirst himself, and the art Chadwick's. Thus does the wheel of artistic life and death turn yet another circle.

Matisse's aspiration for his art is true of Chadwick's: it is 'an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter... a soothing calming influence on the mind'. That Chadwick's is an art of balance is literally as well as metaphorically true. The artist's principal works are mobiles; kinetic solar systems that revolve in complicated balance, their reciprocating orbits in communicative accord with themselves. Kinetic and visual emphasis is given by the use of tiny solar-powered motors propelling the Perspex discs of the mobiles, while ultraviolet light illuminates the struggle between two and three dimensionality. The mobiles provide the viewer with a perfect cosmos: an ordering of the chaos of space, time and form, over which the viewer presides as a contented divinity.

These contemplative systems of universality are contained unapologetically within a retro look, referencing eras which, ironically, were themselves attempting to appear positive and futuristic. The meditative quality of the work is therefore in dialogue with the sometimes incongruous design history configuring them - the lava lamp, without being derogatory, is perhaps a similar point of reference.

The work is constructed to a high standard of workmanship and with obsessive attention to detail, although the finish stops short of becoming fetishised for its own sake. Chadwick makes the kind of art that James Bond would copulate beneath - if James Bond collected art, and had better taste.

Other works are also kinetic, edging closer to an executive desktop toy look but on a large scale. Small to Medium Size Worm (1998) is a two-metre high, aluminium tube structure, within which a complicated gear system determines the random movement of its three sectioned curves. Prickle (1999) is an inflatable plastic form. Motorised air pressure periodically makes it swell, which causes a patterned rising and falling movement of the stalks embedded in its exterior. Complementing these, the show's only static works comprise a series of flock or velvet covered undulating surfaces, such as Red 0888 (1997) - originally contour models, now reminiscent of the ripples of bodily musculature.

Like Matisse, part of Chadwick's calming effect is a strong sexual presence; not a brazen sexuality like Picasso's, but an intensely private sensuality. Prickle is reminiscent of the slow engorgement of pleasured female labia and consequent movement of pubic hair, while the dildo-ish shape, aroused red colour and involuntary motion of Worm are languorously penile. The contour surface works are obsessively tactile; their abrupt cropping disassociates them from human personality while emphasising physicality.

The mobiles are the exception to these more potent sexualisations, though even their internal relationships can be thought of as libidinous courtships of some kind. They, and all Chadwick's works, are usually recurring loops, generating a therapeutic logic out of their mechanistic origin. This logic is engineered over and beyond its stylistic syntheses, achieving the contemplative altitude that is the sophisticated erotic plateau at which we find rest.

Neal Brown is an artist and writer based in London, UK.