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Damien Hirst's great and terrible butterflies

Community and ForumBlogDamien Hirst's great and terrible butterflies

Lev Bely, 20.04.2012 23:09

It was butterflies who brought fame to Damien Hirst, a fancy English artist and famous provocateur who in turn demonstrates his devotion putting them in an empty, unanimated windowless space at the Tate Modern gallery* in London, just to amuse idle gapers and tourists. Surrounded by this “fancy” society they are to emerge from their cocoons and die few days later right here, before the eyes of same idlers.

Those who already saw other Hirst's works likely feel at ease: at any rate they have to enjoy neither a rotting cow's head encircled with a crown of flies, nor a moveless sheep in formaldehyde, nor a gigantic bathtub-sized ashtray full of disgusting butts. Room 5 as opposed is full of sweet tropical butterflies uselessly fluttering inside a closed boxy space to fall down dead on the floor and being picked up right away by careful gallery staff.

“In and Out of Love” was the first individual Hirst's exhibition in 1991 in London's Soho. In a humid room he hung large white canvasses with glued butterfly pupae ready to emerge. After having hatched, they flew around the room with rotting fruits, flowers and sugar water; some mated and laid eggs giving start to a new life cycle. That performance got a notable public resonance.

Today it's renewed at the Tate Modern looking somewhat sad and inspiring both. Surely, butterflies that jazz around greeny country roads in spring or flit by woodland clearings are a certain wonder, but those who spend all their life in closed butterfly conservatories delight as much. Even those who pinned to a cork board still keep some mystery.

In the Victorian era butterfly collecting was quite popular. During butterfly flight periods locals rented their homes to rapt enthusiasts near butterfly hotspots that were in such a high demand as nowadays Wimbledon or the Olympics. Kids hunted for rare species to sell them afterwards to collectors for crazy money. It was also a perfect hobby for clergy that shunned traditional fox hunting and its cruels while collecting enabled them to get enough fresh air. Victorian drawings rooms kept on being filled with pinned butterflies sitting in rows in redwood drawers. This traditional leisure originates another Hirst's exposition at the same Tate Modern — magnificent collages of real butterfly wings.

These days when two-thirds of all British butterflies (59 species) are to decline, dead butterflies might look kind of a mean joke. Butterfly collecting is rather not to be appreciated and some species are even prohibited to catch, although the very collectors happened to be the first to make many significant finds and their supplies still nourish science. Nevertheless, today lacking butterflies inspire creators of all kinds more than ever before.

Hirst is definitely not the first artist enchanted with iridescent, sparkling scales of morpho butterflies (Morpho), he rather queues a long row beginning in ancient Egypt, going through Renaissance paintings, seized by Salvador Dali. Butterflies are everywhere, ever, glimpsing on greeting cards, flying over mass market clothing, expanding their wings to endorse whatsoever, from bank deposits to coffee beans. Butterflies are closely connected to our childhood and this might be the reason of their closeness to our inspirational sources.

Two week after the show started it lives its own life, already not that perfectly performed. All butterflies have emerged from their cocoons and a security guard says plainly that those flying here are brought in every day from outside. As against, the gift shop presents Hirst who is known for his outstanding genius of self-commercializing, as a truly great creator of butterfly prints (£30150, in a limited edition of 50), butterfly deckchairs (£310) and a butterfly umbrella to buy it for £195 and get a nice-looking firmament embellished with your own, nearly pet butterflies. Time to make art.

*Damien Hirst's first retrospective: April 4 — September 9, 2012, London, Tate Modern gallery.

The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk, Tate Modern http://www.tate.org.uk

Photo: Damien Hirst, a butterfly kaleidoscope, Tate Modern. Ray Tang/Rex Features.

Damien Hirst's exhibition at the Tate Modern gallery

All the rest posts on: UK, Exhibition, butterfly art, collecting


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