An edited Chinese-language translation of a piece I wrote was published in Vogue China in November 20081. These are my original texts in response to the questions the editor proposed as the structure for the piece:
Please write down why you picked Damien Hirst?
Hirst is a controversial character who gives a writer a lot of material to get their teeth into. Whatever else you think about him and whether or not you think what he does is serious, I think you have to admit he’s making some serious points about his practice as an artist and the role of art for humanity. He’s also not shy of confronting the art world’s workings and it’s position in society.
His work has gone through many stages. It has a tendency towards the theatrical or cinematic in the sense that many of the larger works create settings in which there is a gap available for the human figure to take it’s place so we become part of the work. This sumptuous theatricality tends to overshadow the fact the Hirst is primarily a conceptual artist, concerned more with the idea behind the work than the absolute form the work takes. For him craftsmanship or artistic style are all subservient to the idea behind the work – but the effectiveness of the form often leads to his work being misunderstood (especially by the tabloid press in Britain) as semi-decorative and lacking in any deep meaning. This isn’t helped by Hirst himself who can often appear flippant when asked to justify his work.
Highlight Gallery have just opened a group show called Body Media, and although I’ve not been in to see the show yet, it’s been difficult to miss the piece that they’ve placed outside the gallery.
Highlight Gallery is right by one of the entrances to the 798 Art District in Beijing, so placing this particular sculpture outside the gallery, beside the main road was always going to be somewhat problematic (is it obvious what they are? Clue: there’s a tiny woman flying behind them and to which they are connected). And this is the result.
This is a great collection of 28 sculptures, placed within the landscaping of these botanical gardens. There is a real sense of these pieces working well with their surroundings. And it’s good to see them being used!
Despite the warnings, the pieces were being used as playgrounds by children who had been dragged along by their parents. I felt annoyed at first that I wasn’t able to appreciate the pieces in some kind of ‘pure’ state, without the distraction of people clambering over them, but I soon realised this was a great way to appreciate the pieces, by interacting with them, not just viewing them from afar in stately isolation.
Of course, this brings up questions about the preservation of art, questions which usually seem to be concerned with commercial value (as in “to touch a piece will reduce it’s value”), but I actually think we shouldn’t be so precious about these works where a physical relationship adds so much to the appreciation.
Following up on the previous post, I think I should justify in some way my comments about the work I saw while in Beijing. By “justify” I mean present some kind of record and evidence for my reactions. To recap, some of the architecture, photography and sculpture appealed to me, but by and large much of this was by foreign practitioners.