Saturday, 30 November 2013

Art, Death & Controversy



Yesterday (well, it was yesterday when I did go) I went to Damien Hirst's 'Relics' exhibition at Al Riwaq gallery here in Qatar and it stirred up far too much in my head and I thought the best way to get it all sorted out in my head and also to share all my favorite parts with this imaginary audience on the other side of the screen. 

The gallery did bring up a lot of themes that I was very interested in but it also gave me more questions that I never did think about. Also, since I went to the gallery with my mum she gave me a lot of her own personal feedback that made me compare my own perception of it and an opposing opinion that was actually very much supported with a profound thinking process.

With Dead Head - 1991

I just looked up the picture to find the date it was added to his collection but instead I came across an article on The Independent that seemed to agree with what my mum thought of this photograph. My mum considered this to be quite disrespectful and exploitative simply because the dead man in the photo didn't have a say in whether he wanted to have his picture taken for this purpose or not. And what I initially thought in response to that was "...but he's dead?" And after thinking it through and more specifically after seeing this quote about Hirst showing "no concern for the dignity of the man, who would be recognizable to relatives" I feel like it really is an abuse of power after all. 

I understand the whole essence of Hirst's work is the shock value and how accustomed he is with portraying and working with dead bodies and animals but I don't believe in work being used solely for shock value. There are many points that could back up and justify the usage of this photo as part of his gallery, I would know because I agreed with them at first, but I think it's just this little grey area? I don't quite know. 

'Mother and Child Divided' - 1993

This subverts one of the oldest icons of Western Christian art and is a result of his heavy Catholic influence as a student attending a Catholic school. In contrast to the unity of mother and baby that the traditional image celebrates, he chose to present them not only forever separated from one another, but also fatally severed in themselves making it completely impossible to retain the lost unity. Once again you could easily jump to the understanding that this is essentially animal abuse but according to Damien, the purpose behind this is that it should both attract and repel the viewer. He said that 'in a way, you understand more about living people by dealing with dead people.' 

'What's sad is that if you look at my cows cut up in formaldehyde, they have more personality than any cows walking about in fields.'

We are definitely accustomed to cows being a food source and what I draw from this piece of work is that it's a mystical attempt at showing just how uncomfortable people get when animals that we're used to slaughtering for food are personified and placed in an odd location making them stand out a lot more and forcing us to come to terms with how we often kill things to admire them. My thought process led me to think about a phrase often used when somebody commits suicide - how people only listen and pay attention to your problems after you're gone - and it somehow links for me because we're only hit with the realization after we're forced to adapt to the animals in vitrines in the middle of an art gallery.

(This thought is incomplete. Ridiculously incomplete)

Loving in a World of Desire - 1995

The History of Pain - 1999












I love these two a lot. Not only because of the fact that there is no controversy over them and you can enjoy them and love them simply but also because in their extreme simplicity they convey so much. I would've never thought I would be very impressed by a modern art piece of a floating ball, but hey, I am. The first one, especially with the color of the wall in the background complimenting the range of colors brings so much joy. It feels so childish (but the good childish)

'The History of Pain' on the other hand is so fragile? Watching the ball slowly rise and fall while coming so close to the knives is like an on-edge experience and conceptually, it makes a lot of sense



The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living - 1991
(Unfortunately I got a picture of both "The Immortal" and "Leviathan" but not this one :()

This artwork got a lot of criticism from a lot of sources claiming that 'a dead shark isn't art' and I understand the complaint because I have a strong disliking towards modern art that claims to be a masterpiece but is actually just 0% effort and 100% bullshit. But I think the reason Damien sort of affects me is his reasoning behind the pieces. I've seen so many artworks that claimed to mean so much but all I saw was colors. But with this one, both the title and the mere feeling the presence of the sharks in the gallery give you - at least, I believe - are worth the praise. In response to the people saying that anybody could've put a shark in a vitrine, Damien responded with "But you didn't, did you?" and I think he has a pretty damn valid point. 

Back to what I think of it, the fact that the shark is this universal thing that provokes some sort of fear or strong emotion from people works very efficiently here because we are still very uncomfortable with the shark's present and the formaldehyde giving it that blue tint makes it look like it's in its natural habitat. It's really sad and funny how we admire it when it's dead because it gives us that sense of security when in fact, inside, we are still very uncomfortable yet after walking around the gallery for a while you sort of subconsciously wrap your head around the fact that it is a shark and it is dead. And I think the fact that it really is a shark didn't hit me while I was there, just like death doesn't really hit us while we're living. We just cant comprehend it. 



This one is a recreation of the scene of the beheading of John the Baptist which I find to be very intriguing in so many weird ways.

"It's kind of odd to take meat and give it back a personality in some way or make it a metaphorical carrier or something like that. People don't like faces on meat. But also for it to be dead in a tragic way. For you to have some sort of understanding or to feel its pain or tragedy."


Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain

In addition to the scalpel, as according to traditional depictions, he added a pair of scissors inspired by one of my favorite creators of all time, Tim Burton and his film 'Edward Scissorhands'. The addition is implying that 'his exposure and pain is seemingly self-inflicted. It's kind of beautiful yet tragic."

This piece is supposed to act as a reminder that the "strict demarcation" between art, religion and science is a relatively recent development. 

As a whole this piece struck me because despite the powerful posture, when you look a little closer he is in a position of complete vulnerability as he has actually peeled his flesh off to reveal what lies beneath. And that interpretation alone has many obvious reasonings behind it. 



"I did not want just a record, but rather the actual movement"

Damien decided to create a "life cycle in a box" and if that's not creative, I don't know what could be. Throughout his career, pairs and duplicates have remained an important element of his work and he says that "it undermines the idea of being unique. There's a comfort I get from it that I love. Each part of a pair has its own life, independent of the other, but they live together."

I didn't really know what to think of this piece while I was admiring it and even well after I left the exhibit. I mean I am actually completing his post almost a week after I actually went to the gallery because of school interrupting my time dedicated to free writing. But the point is, it messed with me a lot. I attempted to apply it to life in so many possible ways and I just couldn't escape all the possibilities and how many factors and details associated with them. 

Damien said that "you can frighten people with the death or an idea of their own mortality, or it can actually give them vigor." And I'm pretty sure what's in my head is definitely a sick mix of both. 

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