Thursday, 5 April 2012

Damien Hirst, Tate Modern, Part 2

In my general overview of the Hirst retrospective I riffed on the overt symbolism of wings and flight. I didn't mention one other significant element of the art that appealed to me, but which I was reminded of whilst watching the video Tate have produced in which Hirst talks to the show's curator, Ann Gallagher (which one can watch here).

It's to do with the animals in the vitrines. What's interesting in seeing the pieces in the gallery, close-up, is that it isn't quite possible to see all the way around the animal. Only viewing facing the glass more or less face-on allows a true vision of the contents, as the thick glass and dense preserving fluid otherwise warp the light. Proximity is only approximate, if you like.

This experience put me in mind of the basic tenets of Cubism and the idea of flattening a three dimensional object. At corners of the shark vitrine (The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living), for example, you can clearly see two sides of the animal simultaneously. Also, the tank seems bent, flattened from its chunky foursquareness into a thin curve. This is clearly analogous to the idea of rendering different faces of a bottle or a glass in the same two-dimensional plane in the works of Picasso or Braque, continued in the female faces of Picasso which are presented simultaneous both face-on and in profile.

I came back to this as, in the video, Hirst speaks briefly about Mother And Child Divided (1993) and how he likes the idea of seeing both the inside and outside of both cow and calf, having access to those perspectives. This is a further opening out of available perspectives and develops this echo of the Cubist technique in the light of our modern literacy with the human body and science.

Naturally, such a technical debt is highly pertinent to the Tate's current exhibition Picasso And Modern British Art, which holds works of the British Modern mainstream up to the prism of Picasso's influence. Hirst unquestionably belongs in the British Modernist tradition and this technical exchange between his work and the intent of Cubism makes this part of the exhibition a nice corollary to the Tate's other show.

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