- Damien Hirst
- The Blood of Christ
- inscribed DHS 5339 on the reverse
- stainless steel, glass, 1860 industrial pills and pig's blood
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
"I was brought up a Catholic, but I don't believe in God. I think I'm an atheist. Hardcore atheist. I'm trying to be a hardcore atheist, and then I keep making work like this..."
The artist interviewed by Robert Ayers in: Artinfo, 14th August 2007
Confronting the viewer on the human scale and in portrait format, Damien Hirst's sculpture The Blood of Christ represents the unadulterated essence of this iconic artist's output. An altarpiece to contemporary pharmacology, this work pitches science against religion in an epic meditation on life and death. The title immediately signposts an immense legacy of precedent and influence, tapping into the symbolic associations of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the epic climax of the Christian narrative that has been a mainstay of western visual for millennia. The blood of Christ references both the actual blood shed by Christ as he died on the cross and the Eucharist tradition whereby wine is taken as either the literal or metaphorical incarnation of Christ's blood. With this sculpture Damien Hirst equates this symbolic heritage to the quotidian routine of medical prescription, striking the most monumental allegory between the redemption of humankind through God's sacrifice of his son and the life-giving reprieve afforded by contemporary pharmaceuticals.
While the sliding glass doors confirm the cabinet as a portal into the conceptual project of Hirst's artwork, the vertical sheet of highly polished stainless-steel at the back of the sculpture works as a mirror in which we find a literal reflection of ourselves. Between these parallel screens of the portal and the mirror lie 1,860 aspirin-like pills daubed with drops of pigs' blood and systematically arranged in rows. Thus we are invited into the actual and conceptual space of Hirst's allegory to confront the ideological dimensions of our beliefs. Our reflected presence continually reaffirms our current experience of the work, and in this self-shadow The Blood of Christ asks that we interrogate the most fundamental structures underlying what we believe in.
This fully frontal sculpture is not only an image of implacable composure and a masterpiece of pristine minimalism but also a metaphor ablaze with iconography. Securely boxed-in by a thick stainless steel frame, glass panels meet halfway across the cabinet, which imitates the presumed dimensions of Christ. Sealed within are row upon row of narrow shelves, each paced out by the pills at meticulously regular intervals. This unblemished cleanliness is savagely marred by the thick viscous droplets of pig's blood that have been ladled over the pills. Thus the elegant, measured, and glassy apparition of classical order and sterile perfection that is the medicine cabinet is tainted by its splattered blood transfusion, perfectly balancing the comparison between pharmaceutical and religious solutions.
The sleek metal geometry of The Blood of Christ also continues the Vanitas tradition as a focus on the transience of life and the inevitability of death. However, whereas the archetypal Vanitas still-life sets up symbolic equations with willful semiotic complexity, Hirst presents pills and pigs' blood as a shocking and haunting memento mori that shoot straight through the centre of our frame of reference. Contemporary societies are often characterized by a silent acceptance of drug-taking that for the most part goes unquestioned and unnoticed as a thoroughly embedded pastime of everyday life. Drugs and medicines both improve and extend our lives and frequently become an integral part of existence. Indeed, the artist has remarked "all pharmaceutical drugs exist in the space between birth and death. The drugs are meant to keep you alive" (the artist cited in: Robert Violette, Ed., Damien Hirst, London 1997, p. 225). Like the traditional signposts of the skull, candle, bubble and flower, the pills in The Blood of Christ work as a powerful trigger to the catharsis that life is conditioned by the necessity of death.
Hirst is perhaps alone in his field for the sheer audacity with which he tackles the monumental issues, and it is only with such an unremorsefully iconographic language that this is possible. Although a scientific world view can give us knowledge of the nature of things – it can verify and prove the facts – it cannot tell us what these mean. Conversely religion, with its attendant moral interpretations, unproven if not unfounded, can grant the world meaning and human beings value. Hirst recasts religious themes, despite the fact that any rational belief in divine order is impossible to prove and necessarily undermined. In doing so, he brings art into the equation and raises the question of whether art can be an antidote to the nihilistic experience of living in an uncertain world. In interweaving religion, science and art, distinct categories each with its own fervent claim to truth, Hirst creates an object of bewildering beauty which eloquently communicates the conceptual premises at the core of his entire oeuvre. Where religion revolves around mystery, Hirst's art revels in conundrum: "I don't want to tell anybody what to think, I just want to make you think, and make you think along with me. There's no answers, only questions, and hopefully the questions will help guide you through the darkness" (the artist interviewed by Sean O'Hagan in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Paul Stolper/ Other Criteria, New Religion, London, 2006, p. 9).