“Cigarettes are such clinical forms. They are like pills. They have a purity before you smoke them. They’re expensive, dangerous, from the point you light one to when you stub it out, it’s death”
(Damien Hirst in conversation with Sophie Calle, 1991, online).

A fascination with death lies at the core of almost every piece that Damien Hirst has created. Hirst’s enormous ambition and sheer talent enables him to confront and apprehend the most imposing of subject matters. His pieces force the viewer to confront death and its inevitability. Undoubtedly a morbid theme to devote oneself to, Hirst, as many of the great artists of art history have done before him when dealing with death, nonetheless strives to find poetry and beauty in our passing. The seemingly paradoxical combination of death and beauty in a single work is what gives Hirst’s work such an allure and has made him one of the most compelling and visceral artists to have emerged at the turn of the century. Who is not fascinated by death, the most mysterious and unfathomable of experiences? When Hirst is at his best, as he is in Dog Days, we find that we cannot look away in spite of the message that challenges us. Since the beginning of his career, Hirst has expressed a keen interest in methods of collection and display. Dog Days is a stunning cabinet displaying what is usually considered detritus and undesirable: cigarette butts. The collection of cigarettes, displayed in a similar manner to the medicine cabinets, emphasizes our own inevitable mortality performing as a contemporary memento mori. The cigarettes are carefully and painstakingly installed with all of the organizational rigor and discipline of a Minimalist sculpture, helping to transform this raw waste material into something of great iconic power and emotional depth. Hirst’s identification of the cigarette as an emphatically charged material relates to his use of other such materials such as animal corpses, images of cancer cells, and contemporary pharmacology. All are highly engaged with the central theme in Hirst’s work: death.

(detail name to come)
“The whole smoking thing is like a mini life cycle. For me the cigarette can stand for life. The packet with its possible cigarettes stands for birth. The lighter can signify God, which gives life to the whole situation. The ashtray represents death … because being metaphorical is ridiculous, but it’s unavoidable”
(Damien Hirst, I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, London 2005, p. 102).

From the first cigarette cabinet works that became defining features of the artist’s mature work up to the more recent manifestations, this body of work reflects his deep-rooted interest in the ephemerality of the human body. In their uncanny familiarity, the cigarette cabinets are exceptionally potent symbols that scrutinize the mediation of our bodily awareness through the tobacco product. The cigarettes, organised on sleek minimalist shelves, vary between upright and horizontal positions. From afar they read like binary or as a sheet of music. One can only be reminded of the passage of time as one scans across each shelf and the display of cigarettes on top. Dog Days becomes a sort of musical score for the incremental and inevitable progression of life into death. Through the simple but poetic elevation of the cigarette into a work of art, Dog Days offers a profound audit of human existence, forcing the viewer to meditate on life and death itself. Hirst explains the power of the cigarette as a metaphor of human existence, “The whole smoking thing is like a mini life cycle. For me the cigarette can stand for life. The packet with its possible cigarettes stands for birth. The lighter can signify God, which gives life to the whole situation. The ashtray represents death … because being metaphorical is ridiculous, but it’s unavoidable” (Damien Hirst, I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, London 2005, p. 102). Dog Days is where the end product of this cycle accumulates and is preserved as a sort of punctuation to make the progression of time more discernable and thus allowing the viewer, even if for a moment, to contemplate the meaning of death.