Damien Hirst is an artist guaranteed to divide opinion, but like him or loathe him if there is a chance to see some of his work you should go, if only to find out what all the fuss is about. Today I went to see a small exhibition of his older work at The Lightbox in Woking.
Titled “New Religion”, the work was brought together in 2005 and (in the words of the gallery leaflet) “…deals with issues such as mortality, love, seduction and consumption.” It is claimed that this body of work addresses Hirst’s belief that “science is the new religion for many people.”
The main body of work are a series of silkscreen prints of pills and drugs representing people or moments from the Bible, a further group of pill prints recreates the 14 Stations of the Cross. At the far end of the gallery is a small white ‘alter’ upon which are a group of artefacts which represent the Crucifix (made from cedar wood and encrusted with coloured pewter pills, the Eucharist, a skull made from carved marble and the Sacred Heart, an ovoid form made from silver.
The centre piece of the exhibition is the travelling box in which all the prints and artefacts arrived, with its lid raised to reveal the padded compartments for the altar objects, the red perspex casting a shadow of an inverted cross across the room. The drawers beneath spill open to reveal coloured folio cases each labelled with the print series it should contain.
Having seen Hirst’s Pharmacy installation at Tate Britain and also some of his formaldehyde animal pieces in the past, I had the same feeling in this exhibition as I had at the others. I am not quite sure exactly what to make of it. I don’t think this particular show does address the idea that science is the new religion for some; if anything I would have said that it promotes the notion that drug taking is the new religion. I don’t mean drugs as in the illegal kind; these pill prints are of drugs which are freely available over the chemist counter or on prescription every single day. So perhaps what is really being talked about is the personal perception of our own health being regarded with an almost religious fervour. “The Body is a Temple” and all that.
As in the past I came away feeling a bit cheated. The screen prints are OK, but repetitive, personally I couldn’t reconcile the religious connections, some of which were obscure and some shared the same pill images which didn’t help. How you view this exhibition will hinge on whether you hold a secular view of the world or not. It is obvious that Hirst is a Catholic, albeit most likely now lapsed, but there is this ‘preachy’ overtone and a kind of assumed authority that only the artist knows best.
I read an interesting post from another blogger which spoke of the writer Barry Lopez talking about what is an authentic story and what is inauthentic. An authentic story is about ‘us’ while an inauthentic story is about ‘you’ (the individual); artists, writers, musicians when creating authentic works should be making stuff which is about ‘us’ and instead of trying to tell the whole story with a particular outcome, should really pose the question “this is what I saw; what do you think?” I think this is an excellent premise from which to create work, and one (in my opinion) which this exhibition does not meet.
I think this is an exhibition of style over substance. Heavy on promise, but light on delivery. Is it worth the £5 entry charge, yes, because it is always interesting to see the work of living artists with such a high international profile and if we are to be able to form any sort of opinion, the work needs to be seen first hand. (The exhibition runs until 5 July 2015 and is £5 on an annual pass).
No images are available due to copyright.
NOTE: If you do visit and want to see something really interesting climb the stairs to the second floor and have a look at the Ingram Collection: Planes, Trains and Automobiles exhibition. Assembled by the Lightbox Young Curators (a group for 13-19 year olds interested in art and learning about how galleries and museums work) the art on show is all drawn from the Ingram Collection which has its permanent home at The Lightbox. The best way to describe this small exhibition is from the gallery’s own words “From poster designs to prophetic visions of the future, the show will explore this rich source of inspiration for artists who are constantly fascinated with the world that surrounds them. The movement, speed and intensity of modern life are brought to bear in this exhibition.” All of this is true and I was particularly impressed by the selection of the artwork on display, it is a real eclectic mix of old and new, traditional and modern with a couple of real surprises thrown in. If this is what Young Curators is all about then I for one would like to see more! (Exhibition open until 28 June 2015, entry £5 on the annual pass).
** To read the blog about Barry Lopez click here https://artcalling.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/barry-lopez-tell-a-story-that-helps