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Damien Hirst's Animal Mummies

Are Modern Animal Mummies Art? A controversial artists thinks so....


British artist Damien Hirst has a reputation for creating controversial artwork. Sometimes his projects include preserved (and sometimes not-so-preserved) corpses of animals.

At a now-closed (and then quite controversial) exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York City, a Hirst work entitled "Away from the Flock" was exhibited. It featured a real (and very dead) lamb preserved in formaldehyde. And other works included dead animals that were not preserved, simply rotting.



The Saatchi Gallery in London, England, held a later exhibition of Hirst's work (which ended August 31, 2003), which included some of the same works and added others. Among them were a 17-foot shark preserved in formaldehyde and a decapitated cow's head, infested with flies.

The publicity for the exhibit said that by using mummified animals Hirst re-examined "the beauty and poetry in death." As a public service, the Mummy Tombs has preserved the publicist's descriptions for some of Hirst's work for this exhibit:

The shark (entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living): "A seventeen-foot Australian tiger shark is suspended in a glass tank filled with formaldehyde, its predatory viciousness just inches from grasp. Fantastically animate, its frigid stillness is shockingly incomprehensible. Sleek, potent, powerful, corporate: it's a trophy of masculine vitality. Hirst presents a Hemingwayesque bravado, the untamed quest of Santiago captured and put on spectacle in a tank."

The sheep (entitled Away From The Flock): "Dead animals in tanks filled with formaldehyde, Hirst's sculptures are ready-made still lifes. It's art that actually is nature. A real beast framed is a perfect naturalist representation, surpassing in purity any realistic painting, sculpture or photo. Since their debut in the early nineties Hirst's animals have prompted questions of morality and ethics. Hirst addresses these issues in the sculptures themselves; their subjects are often allegorical to religious, folklore, and social values. Hirst's animals become the preserved remains of martyrs - like the Capuchin monks of Rome, Pompeii victims, even Lenin - displayed for the reminder of greater lessons learned. Away From The Flock is an angelically white sheep with pristine fragility, bringing to mind the biblical parable of the lost lamb, and the value of protecting the weak and innocent. Hirst unfortunately translates 'saving' as 'preserving'. In real life wee lambs get eaten by wolves."

The cow and the steer (entitled Some Comfort Gained from the Acceptance of the Inherent Lies in Everything):  "A cow and a steer are sliced into six pieces each. Mounted in twelve vertical tanks, they are presented in a line, their segments shuffled to create one long, impossible animal facing two directions at once. Hirst presents a physical and spiritual union between partners, a desperate isolation in their merger."

The pig (entitled This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home): "The pig is sliced down the middle, displayed in two separate tanks. Driven on a plinth by motorised pulleys, this dumb animal constantly passes itself in the endless shuffle, a parody of the futile rat race of life."

The question is one that only each individual can answer: is this art? And if so, why?


Source: Reuters, 5/19/00, CNN.com (4/17/03)