The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a post on Damien Hirst

This morning i did a non-post, a post saying i had no time for posting, but just look at Damien Hirst! Funnily enough it has been the day with the most views on this blog!! Anyway now i would love to touch on the subject of Damien Hirst. Throughout college my feelings on this artist were so very mixed at first I thought he was just hype and shock but the more i studied him and his work the more I really do love and respect what this man does. While it might see in bad taste to many, I dont think that anything contemporary art can really hit you with this face that we must ‘remember our mortality’ (memento mori) such as his work- The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, which is now the symbol of British art worldwide and an iconic piece from the 1990’s.    The work took part of his “natural history” pieces featuring dead animals floating in vitrines full of formaldehyde. As the shark looks alive but is dead preserved completelly intact in formaldehyde (which is its principal function), Hirst completelly entered in his increasing reference to life and death. Both are violently exposed to the audience facing them, as the glass tank is both a window and barrier, both seducing and horrifying the viewer. Best known for this piece and mother and child divided (1993), his work recast here again fundamental questions concerning the meaning of life and the fragility of biological existence. Mother and child divided could be placed in one of his most controversial work comprising four glass-walled tanks containing the two halves of a cow and a calf bisected and preserved again in formaldehyde with sufficient space between each pair that a visitor can walk between them and view the inside of the animals. This work was created for the Venice Biennale of 1993 and was the focal point and winner of 1995 Turner Prize. The aesthetic of Hirst’s tank became his most famous signature, he commented himself that the vitrines: ” first came from a fear of everything in life being so fragile’ and wanting ‘to make a sculpture where the fragility was encased. Where it exists in its own space. The sculpture is spatially contained.” Central to these work is the preservation in the face of death, which is approached ironically when whatever we do to protect bodies they will desintegrate and die. And here, instead of representing the sanctified unity of the mother and child, he celebrates them only separated from one another. Hirst continued to use his animals in tanks as a metaphor to religion with Away from the flock, created in 1994, another natural history works, featuring a sheep floating in formaldehyde. Again, the lamb looks alive but is dead, but Hirst enters into a new level of thinking when it references the religious theme of the lamb of God. This strong christian connotation joins the theme of life and death and the idea of believing. When before he was controversing the way that people believe in medicine and not art, he does here the same with religion when it is also a way to barrier and rule devoting life and death. Whilst it was exposed at the Serpentine gallery in London a visitor poured black into the tank and retitled the work Black sheep. Religion is also explored further away in the large tryptich work Trinity – Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology in which Hirst joined together medicine and religion as one can replace the other as a tool barrier on death and a way to prolongating the faith in life. Here is one of the climax that the artist atteined throught the development of his works and philosophy from the 1990s to the present day: In 2007 came his most provocative work calle for the love of god, a life-sized platinum cast of a human skull covered entirely by set diamonds, something without any precedent in art history. The work is clearly a traditional memento mori, where an image or object serves to remind us of our mortality, as if he unveiled the skull of his severed head of 1981 and covered it by diamonds. The anecdote about the idea which came into his head is a response to his mother who told him “for the love of god, what are you gonna do next time?”. It resulted the priciest work of a living artist. “I remember thinking it would be great to do a diamond one — but just prohibitively expensive,” he recalls. “Then I started to think — maybe that’s why it is a good thing to do. Death is such a heavy subject, it would be good to make something that laughed in the face of it.” Here Hirst reach the idea of death in a more ironical way, compared to the sadness of vanitas scene, the diamond skull is glory itself, as the death’s victory over life. Obviously, as there is no work of art made by Damien Hirst which is not directly or undirectly related to Death and Life, he developed a whole phylosophy on the subject throught is entire career and continues it on the present day. When his materiality and the prices of his pieces could be in opposition to certain conceptual ideas, his approach to the realisation of a work of art is clearly conceptual. “Art goes in your head, it comes from everywhere. It’s our response to your surroundings” he said, an art which gives priority to the idea, delivering a powerfull message and challenging the tradition of the work of art.

3 thoughts on “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a post on Damien Hirst”

    1. yeah me too! when i was in art college one of my tutors saw his crystal skull piece, people lined up in a darkened room with red carpet only two at a time let in past the golden rope to see the one thing under a light, he puts such a sense of occasion into some of the shows! love you blog by the way! will def keep an eye on you handmade items i love etsy!! 🙂

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