By Luz Sepúlveda
MEXICO CITY, 4 May 2006How can the body of
Damien Hirst´s work be classified other than as "contemporary"? One of the
possibilities is understanding the visual production realm in accordance
to its technique: painting, sculpture, ready-mades and installation.
Another possibility would be to view his work by themes: creation and
death, nature and decay, irony and sense of humour, love and religion.
His paintings can be divided in two distinct categories: coloured dots
on a plain monochromatic canvas that are similar to some decorative Op
Artworks,or within the Minimalist considerations of "less is more",
although with an orchestrated design. The other pictorial works are
Hirst´s unique spin paintings which are reminiscent of childhood games,
with an extraordinary aura that childrens creations do not have.
Within the ready-mades that date from the first
years of the 90´s, cabinets containing medicalware, and other tools, have
a connection to Beuys´work; albeit more delicate and preordained.
Different articles in his Pharmacy Bar
can also be considered as ready made objects: the aspirin
shaped stools, the prefabricated pill boxes, lamps, bottles and a gigantic
ashtray filled with cigarette butts.
Hirst´s installations invite major analysis. His
body of work encompasses diverse approximations to neatly designed ideas
on life, death, deterioration and self-preservation. His most famous work,
a shark in a huge fish tank, has been subject to discussions on art
criticism, jokes and cartoons and, more recently, appropriations. Hirst
declares that his intention and thus the result of The Physical
Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
(1991), is causing fear on the spectators.
But the shark is dead! And it is in a museum! How is it possible for
the spectators to feel threatened by a dead and encaged creature? Well,
the shark seems to move, the light reflections help with the illusion and,
moreover, fear is what we experience when we reconsider the fact that
there is a real shark in a museum.
Although shock as an element is not employed only as a justification in
Hirst´s work, it is a constant motif; furthermore, it has the sufficient
dose of strength to conduct into fascination. There is no way we can avoid
feeling attracted towards forms that, although devoid of life, are still
beautiful. They still contain in their incarnation the particles that give
them their essence, form and tangibility. In other words, we are not
confronted by an entity suffering a deterioration or putrefaction but,
despite being artificially conditioned, they extend like effigies that
exude a strange vitality, created by the artist and that can be
denominative of a compulsive beauty.
Damien Hirst may have a compulsion for beauty.
The artist cannot describe diligently what beauty is, but he transforms an
organismwhich has no sense in existing due to its lifelessnessand, like an ontological
taxidermist, he retrieves its lost vitality. The most shocking effect when
one observes corpses of sheep in their transformation process in a tank
with formaldehyde, is that they contain myriad elements with which we can
identify: life that has been transgressed and restored, religious symbols
redefined in a context of redemption at present, sparkles, twinkles, and
shining beams that equally speak of the condition of "lightness" on one
side, and of more profound and meaningful transparency on the other.
Damien Hirst: In Nomine Patris (In the Name
of the Father), 2004-2005
Mirror, aluminium, steel bolts, sheep
and formaldehyde solution
113.11 x 81.34 x 24.9 in
Photo courtesy of
Galería Hilario Galguera
The heart, isolated from its status as symbol, and lacking its
organic purpose, is pierced by a sword as an emblem of courage and
transcendency; in another context, the dehydrated heart is the last paragon that
defines the conditionsometimes difficult to differentiate- between life and
death. Surrounded by human skulls splashed with paint that resembles
blood, another heart is invaded by needles that drain the poison it
contains and thus recovers its reason to exist. Hirst provokes the
interruption of deaths inevitable process of putrefaction. He enhances
the forms that will expire in the long term, but that shine brighter in
the immediacy of the artist´s composition.
Two huge diamond-shaped boards display dissected butterfly wings that
resemble ornamental motifs, as fractal patterns that adorn tapestry. Once
again, it is not possible to escape the dialogue between life and death:
the butterflies are buried in layers of enamel and shooting flashes of
Damien Hirst: Adam and Eve Under the Table, 2005
skeletons, wedding dress, suit, flowers, shoes, gold rings, mud, alcohol
bottles, cigarettes, glasses, mirror, fruit and drug
Photo courtesy of Galería Hilario Galguera
A sense of humour is still presentthank Godin the work
of Damien Hirst: two skeletonsAdam and Evedressed as groom and bride lie on
their backs under a table covered by empty beer and tequila bottles,
ashtrays with cigarette butts, and some English coins. A gory Mexican
altar, a skull from the Mexican day of the dead appropriated by an
anatomist and turning it into reality, the tragicomicity of an alebrije
(brightly coloured papier maché demon figurines) disguised as real life, a
souvenir of Mixquic in the morgue. This is how the artist transmuted the
idea of death and morphed it into a wild party "á la Hirst".
Too much stress? Hirst has a double
solution: thousands of paracethamol tabletsphysical pacifierbathed with Christ´s
bloodmetaphysical pacifierin a mirror display with brilliant glass mini shelves, over
which lies the medicine for eternal happiness.
Damien Hirst: The Blood of Christ, 2005
steel, glass, pills, blood
Photo courtesy of Galería Hilario
A dove extends its wings claiming an ode to peace, although at the
tank´s bottom a skull is placed and only proclaims its irremediable death.
In another tank, the shark seems to laugh at his incapacity to devour us,
at the kneeling sheep that pray with a rosary in their hands, at the
post-postmodern nature-mortes hanging on the wall, and at the fascinated
It seems like Damien Hirst has a clinical eye: as a forensic doctor he
observes, dissects, analyzes, diagnoses and closes the case. The
environment in which he works is very different from the one he presents
us as final results: without traces of blood, without sutures or scars,
nor marks that might indicate a possible aggression. On the contrary,
Hirst´s installations are aseptic, luminous, translucent, crystalline,
absolutely animated by something distinct from human soul. Could it be
true that God is dead?
Damien Hirst: The Death of God.
Francisco Pimentel #3
colonia San Rafael
Tel. (52) 55 55 46 67 03
- 31 August 2006
An art historian and critic based in Mexico City,
Luz Sepúlveda writes an art column for Playboy magazine, Mexico