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Cubitts x Henry Moore Institute: curiosity

Our conversation with Cubitts The Modern Spectacle Maker continues with them asking to see something which fit with their theme of curiosity. So we took a look at an item from our extensive Helen Chadwick collection.

Errin Hussey (Archivist, Henry Moore Institute): What we have here is some costume from the Helen Chadwick Collection. I’ve chosen this for curiosity for many reasons because firstly it’s often curious for people that there are actually objects in the archive. You’d think there’ll be sketches and photographs but maybe not objects.

Helen Chadwick was really the queen of curiosity, so these were from an installation project that she did early in her career – at university.

She was always curious about societal roles, especially for women – and thinking of herself as a woman and who she was was a central exploration in her work.

We’ve got some books which show lots of her installation projects, all summed up under the umbrella of ‘Studio Girls’. They are divided into sections for example ‘domestic sanitation’, ‘latex glamour rodeo’.

Cubitts: Wow.

Errin: We have some latex costumes in the collection. It turns out latex from the seventies does not last.

Helen Chadwick went so far beyond traditional sculpture. And this is also such a beautiful object and to think that she made it when at university and her literally crafting all of this metal and sewing it.

Cubitts: It’s so interesting to see the attention to detail. It’s an absolutely amazing piece and is perfect for our theme of curiosity.

Errin: It’s so good. And it’s lasted so well, it’s in such good condition. She didn’t just finish and then discard. She always revisited her work. We have a lot of costumes as well that she hand stitched hair into. We’ve actually got Helen Chadwick’s whole collection – 130 boxes.

Cubitts: Do you see these curiosity principles in other artists and sculptors in the archive as well?

Errin: Yes definitely. Especially from the generation who were following modernist principles. They were thinking outside of the box and thinking about materials.

Cubitts: This is so interesting because the way we’ve approached curiosity at Cubitts is along similar principles. We talk a lot about curiosity. It’s about going out to seek knowledge without having an end goal in mind and letting your curiosity lead you.

It’s about attention to detail, or obsession with detail and the curiosity behind thinking about those individual things and craft is very similar to this. The hand crafted and trying to do things in a different way or reinventing traditional approaches. But we also follow modernist principles, very much function over form and once you’ve got that you can go off in all different directions.

More about the shoe

This shoe was created by Helen Chadwick for one of her early installation works while she was studying at Brighton Polytechnic. The installation ‘Domestic Sanitation’, formed part of her graduation exhibition in 1976. The shoes were part of an outfit called ‘Virgin Scandinavian’. Characters in the performance were hybrids of mattresses and women. The archive holds the rest of this outfit as well as lots of other costume from Chadwick’s early performances.

Our Helen Chadwick Collection

The Helen Chadwick archive was collected in 2002 and is one of the largest and most used collections in the Archive of Sculptors’ Papers. Helen Chadwick (1953-96) was a British sculptor, photographer and installation artist. She was an influential practitioner in the last quarter of the twentieth century and developed a new visual language about identity. The role, identity and representation of women was an important theme of her work. The 130 box archive consists of sketches, photographs, costume, notebooks and audio-visual material relating to her work, along with journals, notebooks, correspondence and much more, relating to the development of her career.

Turning the Pages

Look through Helen Chadwick's notebooks yourself with our virtual software, Turning the Pages.

See all of Helen Chadwick's notebooks on Turning the Pages

Notebook on early work (1972-75)

Contains detailed ideas and sketches on the development of early works made when Chadwick was a student, including notes on 'juicy jokes', ideas for self portraits and sketches of chocolates entitled 'erotic exotica'.

Launch book

Notebook on 'Ego Geometria Sum' (1981-83)

Contains detailed notes on the ideas, research and development for 'Ego Geometria Sum' including how Chadwick approached the subject of her past and memory.

Launch book

Visiting the Archive of Sculptors' Papers

If you would like to plan a visit to the Archive, please browse the online catalogue and then contact our Archivist Errin Hussey to discuss the material you are interested in.

The archive is open via prior appointment only, Tuesday to Friday, 10am-5pm.


Image credits:

A shoe from Helen Chadwick’s 1976 Brighton Polytechnic graduation show ‘Domestic Sanitation’ © The Helen Chadwick Estate. Courtesy of Leeds Museums & Galleries (Henry Moore Institute’s Archive of Sculptors’ Papers)

Catalogue for Helen Chadwick: Retrospective, Barbican (2005), ‘Notes on the art of Helen Chadwick, especially the early works’, by Niclas Östlind

Photos: Joanne Crawford