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To Last, or Not

Damien Hirst’s retrospective at Tate Modern has been up and running for a month and I finally got a chance to pay a visit yesterday. Despite it’s a Saturday evening with room full of visitors, there’s a pervading smell of death. Hirst is obsessed with this topic. A series of animal preserved in formaldehyde shows death in the most straight-forward way. Placed inside the bluish liquid, the animal is not resting still but more like frozen at the very moment of death.

Away from the Flock, 1994 © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.

The most striking pieces, to me, are A Thousand Year 1990 and In and Out of Love. They are shocking examples for the contradiction of life and death, and a display of life process. The flies sucking blood from the dead cow head and the butterflies gorging fruit juice share the same destiny – death. When you look at the fragile butterflies, often wounded, flapping aimlessly in the room of spectacle, their lives are downplayed to merely an exhibit for visitors.  You can’t help thinking how short life can be – in this case, it’s less than 4 months of exhibition time. (In fact it’s much shorter, which are brought to the room every day by the supplier).

A Thousand Year 1990

In and Out of Love © Oli Scarff/Getty Images Europe

The transient nature of life is often the muse for Hirst. What’s supposed to last? Life? Or death? It’s ironical that while life is fleeting and deteriorating, death can be preserved. Or does it matter if things last or not, at all?

Crematorium 1996

Black Sun 2004 A cluster of dead flies on butterflies painting.

Living in this fast-paced society, longevity is diminished. The culture of fast food and fast fashion are accelerating death.  Things are made NOT to last. Even architecture, which are often regarded as enduring, is made with less durable materials. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is constructing a cardboard cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand to replace the one that was ruined by earthquake last year. He is a veteran in using cardboard and paper tubes for developing architecture.  His buildings are supposed to last for 20-30 years. Although it is much short-lived than normal architecture, Ban thinks a building’s value depends on how much it’s loved rather than how long it last.

Shigeru Ban’s christchurch cathedral Image from Inhabitat

Damien Hirst’s exhibits and Shigeru Ban’s architecture are a lesson for appreciating the impermanence.  We learn to embrace the  “lasting long enough” aesthetics, and nothing more pertinent than this in our liquid society.

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