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Damien Hirst

by on December 12, 2012

Hey guys, I am blogging in response to our talk in a previous class on museums and art galleries and the items within them being performing objects. I think this is an accurate term for said objects. They may have been designed/created originally for a non-performance purpose: old weaponry, tools or transport devices. Their purpose is to be looked at, studied or to capture a spectator’s imagination. This is also in response to what qualifies as Art.

It is very interesting to see how or why these objects are presented, perhaps in a glass case or in a specific shape for aesthetic purposes, it then, in essence, ‘performs’ whenever they are being looked at.

I recently visited Damien Hirst’s (a modern artist) exhibition in the Tate Modern. There were many thought provoking pieces within the gallery and since the topic of conversation came up in class, what is/isn’t a performing object, I have had further thought and questions with Damien Hirst’s work in mind. One of my favourite pieces in the gallery was a dead shark that had been pickled and preserved in a glass tank for spectators to see. The tank was filled with a liquid, in order to preserve the shark but it created the illusion the shark was swimming, whereas in fact it was suspended in place and put in a very menacing position with its mouth and teeth exposed. What this piece was for me, personally, was an artist’s bid to help this majestic creature gain immortality, which draws on the aims of the early makers of automata; creating a form of immortality by creating the illusion of life which would outlive the makers themselves.

The title of this piece of work is “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” I feel this sums up this piece of work perfectly, and is hammered home by the fact it is an animal many of us would associate with power and malice.


I understand why many of you guys would disagree; the shark is not a performing object. I feel however the simple fact is that placing the shark thus has sparked the imagination of many viewers and created the vision of a living shark. Therefore the shark has been given an infinite life (even though it is clear to the observer that the shark is dead- its stillness is ‘uncanny’) and has been put in a performance environment. It also will evoke many different reactions from people as a piece of art because naturally, people have preconceptions of this particular animal. The liquid and the glass tank in which the shark is preserved also creates an optical illusion because it plays with your distance perception – think of a straw in a glass of water – which creates some form of interaction as you could see people putting their face up to the glass to get the best look of this beast and other people happy to view it at arms distance due to its amazing presence. In the leaflet we were given it also directed people to move their heads back and forth in front of the glass to give the illusion of movement; suggesting the shark is swimming. This particular shark also has several markings and scars on its body which makes a spectator wonder about how this animal adopted these ailments; as any good piece of art does it provoked the spectators thoughts further than the piece itself. I wondered if the artist caught the shark or whether he found it dead or if there was a story of its discovery. I remember others questioning the ethics behind the piece, hoping the shark hadn’t been hunted down and killed simply for artistic purposes.

I feel this shark has many performative qualities, but it was interesting to see some people walk past with a clear attitude that it wasn’t creative enough to qualify as a piece of art. I really liked this piece and I do love wildlife anyway, and I believe some of the most beautiful spectacles are natural or biological. Check out his website and images of the shark:


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