I don’t know what possessed me. I just wanted to see what the fuss was about. After some begging, Sal finally caves. He doesn’t like Damien Hirst.
‘He doesn’t do his own work, you know,’ Sal begins as we enter the first room. ‘He has these ideas and then gets interns to make the installations for like minimum wage, and they don’t get any acknowledgement, and blah blah blah…’
There’s a photo of a young Damien grinning next to a big dead guy head. I can’t take my eyes off of it. It’s horrible. Should I turn back now? Dare I venture further into the darkness of my morbid curiosity?
The next rooms have big paintings of coloured dots on them. Sal is muttering, ‘probably stole that idea from the Kusama exhibit…’
Eventually we get to the room with the cow head with live flies. Honestly, this isn’t that disturbing – growing up in the country, you see a fair amount of animal parts lying around with flies. But there’s something unsettling about it rotting there behind glass, in the Tate Modern, with no pretty meadow to avert your eyes towards.
The embalmed animals begin around this point. I think. It’s all kind of a blur. There are some brightly coloured paintings with dead butterflies embedded into them. Beautiful and sad.
Then Mr Hirst provides us a meadow, of sorts. A room buzzing with butterflies! Living ones! Also some weird brown streaks on the wall. But also butterflies!!
Then a room set up like a medicine cabinet or pharmacy, coloured pills lined up in a glass cabinet. Then more stuff in formaldehyde, like lambs and sharks. None of this matches up. What is the theme here? Was this a Best Hits Album?
A little girl tugs at her mum’s sleeve. What? They let kids in here?!
‘Look, Mummy, a lamby! Baaa! So soft!’
‘No, not a lamb. That’s the deception of living without acknowledging death and one’s own mortality, sweetie.’
Somehow I end up trapped inside a sagittal-ly sliced cow. These ladies talking excitedly in Portuguese, pointing at grey cow parts ahead of me, some guys behind me. I start to panic. I didn’t know I had a phobia of being trapped inside a dissected cow. I whisper to Sal, ‘I HAVE TO GET OUT OF THIS COW.’ Someone hears me and moves aside.
The next room is better. Swirling colours and a suspended beach ball. My emotions are getting seasick. Am I disturbed? Happy? Grossed out? Confused? It gets choppy after this:
Horrible, horrible dead flies matted into a dark vortex of doom.
A diamond room! Shiny, shiny diamonds!
More dead butterflies, arranged like stained glass. So pretty!…?
An angel carved in marble…with dissected parts (‘Probably had his interns carve that, they did a good job, too…’ Sal grumbles).
The end comes (finally) with a dove suspended in flight in formaldehyde. It’s beautiful and sad. Hope and death.
I don’t get Damien Hirst. That’s ok, I tell myself. You don’t have to get everything.
‘Right,’ I turn to Sal as we run for the exit. ‘Who’s hungry?’