Something Solid Beneath the Surface of All Creatures Great and Small

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Something Solid Beneath the Surface of All Creatures Great and Small - Damien Hirst - 1991

I have very little tolerance for Damien Hirst. But after I saw some of his vitrine works in Los Angeles, I at least understood their value. This is of course, the most uncharacteristically coherent and artfully done of them all.

There is something loving in the reverence shown to these skeletons. And formally, the skeletons are very aesthetically beautiful objects.

But the are not just beautiful objects, caringly displayed. What makes this piece moving is that they are in dialogue with a number of other factors.

The skeletons are posed in slight tension, not so much to imply action – just some minor degree off from natural repose. Their presentation is incredibly antiseptic, with the pristine glass of the vitrine, the whiteness of the bones, and the slight mirroring of the glass.

When you look through the case at multiple skeletons, there is something (harkening back to Burke’s concept) sublime about the overlay of the remains of these lives.

Bridging the gap between a dispassionate and clinical scientific display and a tribute, the overall effect of this nuanced enough to be a bit shocking, a bit beautiful, and very affective.

The logic of the grouping is also part of the piece: they are typologically the same, yet the morphologic differences are in incredible contrast. The dialog between the skeleton of the tiniest bird and that of a bull ram or howling chimpanzee is breathtaking.

It is somehow both a cabinet of curiosities and a memento mori.

Using this “drawing together” to create a dialog of meaning is a very effective idea.

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