Oh fish

death-explained-better-black-border.jpg As the saying goes, going to see a Damien Hirst exhibition is like going to the Natural History museum. Few encounters can make you feel so belittled and sorry at the same time as when facing a tiger shark in a bowl of formaldehyde. This fascinating animal, once ruler of the sea, reduced to pickled meat for the contemporary artventurer – a very sad story indeed. Probably what Damien Hirst, who keeps reflecting on the point of art (his own?) and life in general, has been expecting his audience to feel. He went further with Death Explained, one of his new works in formaldehyde exhibited at White Cube, by cutting the great fish into chucks so you can feel even closer to his guts. As a shark lover, I felt pretty miserable. The poor cow in the corner did not know a better fate. But enough has been written on those once ground-breaking artworks. What impressed me in this exhibition was the blown-up ink-jet prints of blood cells and various microscopic fungus and other blobs floating in mysterious seas – reminding me of some bio-morphic paintings of Miro, but in a definitively hyper-realistic fashion.

The great fuschia-pink M310/019-Fatty_tumour,_light_micrograph_SPL.jpg, incrusted withhundreds of glittering silver razor-blades, was a spectacle in itself. My friend preferred P520/211 Small intestine cancer, SEM_SPL.jpg,

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an anemone-like creature of underwater blues and greens seemingly sprouting out of the painting. What the preserved formaldehyde animals did not do for me as abstractions of death, those huge prints did: they pushed away the traditionally gloomy, frightening idea of death – the suffering, the commiseration, the void created by it – and replaced it with bright, colourful images of the biological us, celebrating the very source of life, the fight for life. For The Love of God, the showstopper human skull encrusted with diamonds, is supposed to do exactly this: glorifying death as a part of life itself. Unfortunately, I could not see it – I had to book a private meeting for the experience, surrounded by half-a-dozen dark angels in security tracksuits. I felt hopeless again.

Damien Hirst: Beyond Belief, at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London

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~ by lavivette on June 20, 2007.

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