Bring on the Bodies – inside Hirst’s Little House of Horrors

Posted: 27 August 2012 in Understanding Others

Take your kids to see Damien Hurst’s little house of horrors? Rotting heads?  Pools of blood?  Insects being electrocuted  before your very eyes? Yes – take them. I was amazed that there were a lot of families with primary school age kids there, and they loved the animal stuff.

Dear old Damien is peddling a gothic sense of the ghoulish. It would be Victorian melodramatic, but considering his age and his sense of the contemporary; more a case of Black Sabbath than Edgar Allan Poe. Not to say the quest on death in his teens did not start sincerely, but it has become so “showy”.

The bits most people are interested in, especially the kids, are the bits of death that really are about life. Yes – life. Mother and Child Divided. Everyone walks in-between to see the cow innards. Their eyes peer to see “where the poo comes out”. The dead don’t poo. This cow is alive in their imaginations as is the sectioned beast in any biology textbook or in the Science Museum. When I saw this exhibit in Oslo a good a decade ago,people did the same. In the Tate we lingered among the butterflies and hurried though The Pharmacy. The rotting cow head – people peered into its severed neck – to see the mechanics, how it works. The cow is not seen as stone-dead, but as ex-alive. In Nepal I saw big buffalo’s being decapitated in ritual sacrifice for Dasain. We did not want to look at the remains, because the poor old beast was alive, and though the flesh was still steaming, it clearly was stone-dead.

As for the religious material we should pray for Damien, yes pray. Not because he is some sicko but because there is a religious itch. Western society has declared God dead on several occasions (Nietzsche “God ist tot” 1882, Primo Levi in Auschwitz 1945, Phillip Larkin 1960’s, etc, etc), well Damien is trying to sniff out what must be a very LARGE body then.

Perhaps this is nothing about death in itself it is about the humanist conceit of individualism. Not just man being the measure of all things but me yes, me, Me, ME. Perhaps he does have something to offer a, critique of this conceit but ever more strident objectification of death and our attempts to deal with it –drugs, pharmacy, anatomy and all the medical paraphernalia he assembled in sundry glass cabinets.

If he is not solely about self aggrandizement, if he is perhaps is still trying to puncture that inflated bubble of swollen individualism – well – as a Christian I’ll say “bring on the bodies”!


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