Damien Hirst

‘A whole week where I don’t have to think about death!’  I say to Sal at the start of my staycation (holistay?).  ‘So, want to go to that Damien Hirst exhibit at the Tate?’

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?’


This is awesome. Underground Camden Market, near the loos


Blinged out phone booths



You know where the cool kids hang out on Friday night?  Galleries.

If you haven’t been to the National Portrait Gallery‘s Thurs/Fri night Late Shift, freaking go already.  I mean, Trafalfar Square is like, right there, all lit up with Olympic fervour, and the Gallery’s open late with drinks and live music.  Plus there’s that special Diamond Jubilee exhibition of portraits of the royal family.  So I invited a friend to join me Friday night, thinking how very posh we would be, sipping wine as the gallery fills with Mozart under the approving gaze of Her Magesty.

Um.  This is not what happened.  I don’t even know how to describe this music the band (called Circle of Sound) played.  Someone said ‘jazz’, but it ain’t no jazz I ever heard.  Fusion?  Maybe if I could sort out what was fused with what.  One of the songs was oddly reminiscent of ‘Dead or Alive’ by Bon Jovi.  Do you know what a Sarod is?  According to the Circle of Sound’s flyer, it’s a ‘rare Indian fretless instrument’.  There was a British Bengali guy playing that, which was super cool, and this British Austrian dude on the drums.  Then the Austrian dude started beatboxing.


I want you to picture this.  Looking straight at the audience, he just breaks out in weird sounds – bleeps and ‘pacchews’ and ‘pshp-pshp-pshps’.  An audience with an average age of 45, perched politely on their stools, clearly trying to sort out when and whether to applaud.  The mouth sounds start out randomly, accompanied by some casual drumming, then increase in frequency and intensity, until the fretless strumming and mouth percussion burn a sonic hole in the universe.  And all of us – the Sarod, the beatboxing Austrian, the polite and confused Brits on stools – surrounded by dead MPs glaring at us from wall-to-wall oil paintings in the National Freaking Portrait Gallery.

Awesome.  And how was your weekend?