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Perhaps I was hasty in dismissing Ilfracombe as "a small seaside town on the north coast of Devon more noted for some wickedly sharp rocks and a strange popularity with Liverpudlians" since Damien Hirst's bar has now opened there. There's going to be sushi*, allegedly, so I shall have to check it out.

I'm ambivilent about Hirst as an artist. I like some of his stuff, and find others a bit, well, obvious.

Back when I was at art college, and Thatcher was still in power (scary piece of contextualisation), one guy in our studio (Steve) did a lot of work involving bodily fluids and flesh. A couple of years later, an undergrad at Sheffield Hallam (where I was taking my degree) did an installation involving decaying flesh and or a turd on a bit of grass. I forget the precise details, merely remember that the idiot hadn't thought about what happens to flesh/shit under hot lights and the entire show was removed from exhibition. So the notion of cut up animal carcasses as art is not particularly shocking, and seems to assume that the viewer of the work is either squemish or not familiar with dead flesh. At the time I became veggie, one of my school-friends lived above their father's butcher shop**. To visit them for tea, one walked through the prep rooms and saw entire sides of cow carcasses hanging from hooks, or blood being washed from the floor. A work such as Mother and Child Divided is denuded of any shock value if you are familiar with, and blase about, the insides of a cow. At that point, you are free to look solely at the meaning of the work rather than discussing the attempt to shock. There's a nice play on 'divided' in it, obviously, with the mother and child divided from each other as well as literally cut in half. But what else is it asking of us? What other thoughts does it want to provoke, what other thoughts does it provoke? Well, not a lot. I suppose if you are not familiar with chopped up animals it provides a way of exploring the physically of its innards.

Yet his dots series, one of which was sent to Mars on Beagle 2, or the Pharmacy installation at Tate Modern, allow the mind to explore as well as the eye. The dots play with optical reality, and is very much in the Bridget Riley tradition of creating 2D work with 3D illusions. This ties in with my fascination for PKDick style SF, obviously. So my overriding suspicion about Hirst is that his most famous works are art college vacuous attention seekers but that he is not completely devoid of merit.

I went round the Royal Albert Memorial's current crop of exhibitions last week, so I really will get around to explaining why Constable - and all his bucolic rural idyll followers - is pants.

*yes, vegetarians can have sushi. Instead of the fish you have avocado, or mushrooms, or corn, or peppers or... well, all sorts of things.
**this is not why I am vegetarian - I never found the prep rooms the least bit disturbing.

Posted @ 9:30 am on Monday, May 24, 2004
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