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By Luz Sepúlveda

MEXICO CITY, 4 May 2006—How 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 organism—which has no sense in existing due to its lifelessness—and, 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 condition—sometimes 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 death’s 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 sunlight.

Damien Hirst: Adam and Eve Under the Table, 2005
Human skeletons, wedding dress, suit, flowers, shoes, gold rings, mud, alcohol bottles, cigarettes, glasses, mirror, fruit and drug paraphernalia
Photo courtesy of Galería Hilario Galguera

A sense of humour is still present—thank God—in the work of Damien Hirst: two skeletons—Adam and Eve—dressed 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 tablets—physical pacifier—bathed with Christ´s blood—metaphysical pacifier—in a mirror display with brilliant glass mini shelves, over which lies the medicine for eternal happiness.

Damien Hirst: The Blood of Christ, 2005
Stainless steel, glass, pills, blood
Photo courtesy of Galería Hilario Galguera

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 passers-by.

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.
Galería Hilario Galguera
Francisco Pimentel #3
colonia San Rafael
06470 Mexico City
Tel. (52) 55 55 46 67 03
23 February - 31 August 2006


An art historian and critic based in Mexico City, Luz Sepúlveda writes an art column for Playboy magazine,  Mexico .

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