Sadie CHANDLER | Puddles

Australia 1963

Puddles 1992
human and synthetic hair, perspex, wood
variable 100.0 (h) x 120.0 (w) x 2.1 (d) cm
Purchased 1993
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1993.1486.1-5


Sadie Chandler’s irreverent Puddles is a work in five parts. The artist presents glazed compositions of human and synthetic hair―collected from hairdressers, friends and family, from wigs found in opportunity shops, costume stores and wigmakers’ studios―elaborately arranged in frames. The strands of hair are gathered by texture and hair type, composed in an overall pattern, and confined within the black surrounds: there are long brown tresses, and wound grey curls. Individually each object conjures images of nineteenth-century mourning brooches, much enlarged.[1] Positioned together on the gallery wall, the interrelatedness of the components is emphasised and Chandler’s creation becomes an almost jigsaw-like puzzle. Does the title of the work imply a melting mass form or, perhaps, liquid droplets from above? Puddles adopts the guise of geometric modernism to draw the viewer in, only then revealing its true materiality to the eye. At once repellent yet intriguing, we are impelled to examine closely the locks, tufts and wisps that adorn the gallery wall―if only to be sure that our eyes have not deceived us.

Chandler’s work playfully contravenes the legacy of modernism. Barbara Creed has argued that, ‘Although the male Surrealists of the 1920s and 1930s advocated the liberation of woman from the home, in their art and theoretical writings they continued to idealise woman as Muse.’[2] Employing the device of anthropomorphism―investing inanimate objects with human emotions, characteristics or behaviours―(mostly male) artists, such as André Breton, Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel used hair to create objects that expressed irrationally emotional subconscious desires that were keenly informed by Freudian theories of fetish and castration. In this milieu, Chandler’s work, with hair intricately presented for view, is defiantly confronting and incongruously comic. Rather than presenting the female as subject, Chandler’s work signifies woman as creator.

Lisa McDonald
International Art
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


[1] In 1861, following the death of her husband Prince Albert, Queen Victoria entered a deep period of mourning, with citizens of the British Empire experiencing her loss and grief. To commemorate her beloved, Victoria commissioned jewellery made from locks of Albert’s hair ―intricately knotted and woven to form elaborate designs for brooches and rings, bracelets, necklaces and watch fobs

[2] Barbara Creed, ‘The aberrant object: women, Dada and Surrealism’, Art Monthly Australia, May 1994, p 10