Damien Hirst is an English artist, entrepreneur, and art collector. Death is a central theme in his work. He became famous for a series of artworks in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved, sometimes having been dissected in formaldehyde. The best known of these being ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’, a 14 foot tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a vitrine. He has also made “spin paintings,” created on a spinning circular surface and “spot paintings”, which are rows of randomly coloured circles created by his assistants.
‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (1991). Photographed by Prudence Cuming
A while back in May 2012, I went to visit the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern with some of my family. The exhibition was extraordinary, ranging from paintings to collections of pots and pans, a dead cows head to a room filled with live butterflies. it wasn’t like anything I’ve seen before. Normally I’m use to seeing painting and pictures hung up in galleries, but this time, 3D objects were placed around certain rooms, everything felt and looked more alive. It forced me to be intrigued, the work was just astonishing. The exhibition wasn’t one for someone with a weak stomach as there was a fair share of uncomfortable confrontations as you made your way around the rooms. The image of Damien with the dark was preserved in formaldehyde solution which gives it that life like appearance.
Damien mentioned in the exhibition guide ‘It was the first time I’d ever made anything that had a life of its own… something that I had no control over’. He fascinated himself when he saw the final outcome of the 3D objects that he had created and left many people in awe as they walked looking around the exibition.
As I continued to carry on through the different rooms, you couldn’t miss the obvious dead cows head that was in a glass vitrine. I saw blood stream stains on the floor beneath as it’s fed on by flies and rots on the floor. There was also a small container in the corner of the vitrine where maggots hatch and turn into flies. I remember seeing a silver tray that hung from the roof of the vitrine attached to a lamp, where dead flies are collecting by the day. There was also a sheep placed in see-through glass. The enclosed space produces an on going life cycle, providing the idea of recurring life after death. Overall this exhibition was one of my favourite, everything was ‘put in your face’ as the objects are so real.
The most beautiful part of the exhibition i must say was seeing real life butterflies flying around the room. There were large white canvases hanging from the walls where cacoons are made and where butterflies emerged from. There was a table in the centre of the room where bowls of rotted fruit were placed for the butterflies to feed on. ‘In and Out of Love’ by Damien Hirst is very different to ‘A Thousand Years’ when you first enter the exhibition. There were different sized butterflies which had a variety of colours to them and various wing sizes. Looking at this moment was just amazing. As people walked around the area, they took very careful care, not to harm anything, the room felt magical and refreshing, the whole reason Damien put this together was to reinforce the idea of the continuation of the circle of life. Damien Hirst’s work by this point clearly showed that he was trying to display how life and deathare continually link together in many different ways.
At the end of the exhibition i finally came to understand the meaning of all of Damien’s unique and unusual work. The preserved shark, although dead, fear of it still lives on through the continuation of other sharks. The dead cows head lives on through itself being used as food for maggots and flies and so on and so fourth. It was a difficult concept to grasp at the start but fascinating at the end of it all.