In the summer of 2009, Tate Britain held “Classified” exhibition of British contemporary art which featured as a part of the collections of contemporary installations and oil paintings. Among them, Pharmacy (1992), the masterwork by artist Damien Hirst (born in 1965) is the subject of the review. Borrowing the medical classification system, he set the laboratory or clinical treatment equipment of a hospital into the context of art gallery, displaying drugs in order, displaying an intimation of different systems of believes. The entire work features a scene that is similar to an exhibition in a museum-style, where everything is in order. In the center of the exhibition hall, electronic zappers were suspended from the ceiling, closely staring at four bowls of honey, respectively placed on four footstools, these seemed to be used to induce a variety of insects, there were three modern office tables and chairs placed at the entrance, on which there were four pharmaceutical bottles, full of colored liquids, and the wall shelves were filled with a variety of colored bottles and boxes of medicines, all in order and reflecting each other. In the eyes of the artist, contemporary people have an habit of dependence on drugs, and even some worship them, treated as a religious belief. The materialistic is more prevalent in China. However, it is a system full of flaw and disillusionment, as well as metaphor, leading to the philosophy of death. Because of this, it is impossible for humans to rely on drugs, in the ultimate sense. In fact, the reason why contemporary people are so dependent on drugs for survival, is, on the one hand, because of the natural environment in which we live, and even the food we eat has been completely destroyed, and because of the total corruption of human nature based on human greed, on the another hand, physical survival is treated as the main thing in human nature, and is worshipped through spiritual and cultural lives. Then, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To focus our minds on human nature leads to death, but to focus our minds on the Spirit leads to life and peace. ”(Romans 8:5-6) It seems that Hirst’s works ask us: how can contemporary people discover the way of salvation except through drugs? In the formation of artistic patterns, the artist seems to play the role of a smart drugs buyer and warehouse manager, an artist who does experiment on collections, using an artistic method.
The life and death of the life of the flesh, is one of the themes that concerns Hirst. For the material world, he transforms it to an issue that shows that materialism exists in physical space. During his creation of “The Acquired Inability to Escape, 1991”, he realized a dialectical quality that everything is in a box, while everything is not a box. In other words, a thing maintains its existence only through being self-closing, but it disappears when in an absolute self-enclosed manner. Thus, the existing nature of materialism exists, because it can be transformed into the opposite side of non existence or other forms, otherwise it’s difficult to hold onto its features. The enclosed glass container space within the steel frame structure was produced in accordance with the height of the human body. Among the articles are a pack of cigarettes, and a glass ashtray, filled with cigarette butts that lie calmly on the white table. The artist thought that smoking is difficult to get rid of, an acquired bad habit, and tobacco was a luxury and a symbol of self-destruction. When the space is no longer just a glass container any more, it has a certain purpose and is related to the related inner objects. “It has a kind of narrative mystery.” In my opinion, cigarettes arouse the sense of people’s self-inflicted injury, however, sometimes people feel their existence while they hurt themselves, leads to the achievement of a closed living space. On the other hand, it is in such a solemn enclosed space, that we occasionally reflect on the unintentional destructive behaviors of life. Meanwhile, the cigarette butts in a glass ashtray symbolize the collective actions of people in the unconscious.
Collection is the witness of the existence of an individual life. Whenever relatives pass away, we find things that were used and are preserved, because as the existence of life, humans need to collect and possess. For any nation, if there’s no collection, there is no history. The exhibition themed “Classified” at the Tate Britain, has not only rendered that the artist creates his works through individual collection, but also revealed that humanity is in need of the noumenon with the behavior of the collection, and even clarified that behind the principles of economy, private property is sacrosanct, capitalists absolutely respect the principle of human rights – human existence is composed of the individual lives. Since the 18th century, the principles of scientific classification and taxonomy have been used to interpret the world. “The way that we look at the world, is the way that we understand the way.” This is the curator’s motivation for the “Classified”. Inspired by this, Mark Dion (1961 – ) gathered volunteers to dig the waste of artifacts on the riverbed along the banks of Thames, between Tate Britain and Tate Modern, when it ebbed – caps of bottles, shells, electrical pieces, soles of shoes, handwritten things, man-made bricks, chains, animal teeth, and pottery fragments, and so on, which were classified and placed in a group of drawers in a red cabinet, in the above glass cabinets, there were glass bottles, bricks etc., and some were even packed into boxes. During the visit, audiences were free to open the drawers to view the inner ordered objects, as if going into a taxonomy laboratory of human civilization, from which we could learn how to classify our lives, classifying our survival into certain zones of existence. He named it the “Tate Thames Dig, 1999”. In fact, when opening each drawer filled with artifacts, it reminded us of the terrible catastrophe of civilization, rather than thinking of our own civilization and brilliant creations. Perhaps, it is this catastrophic action of civilization that began to prompt people to establish the museum and library to collect and save civilization. In fact, any healthy society is inseparable from the places where the human spirit lives, such as churches, museums, and libraries. It is a church that brings comfort to the human soul, and it is the museum and library that preserve our spiritual experiences of the materialized form, to enable humans to have a dialogue with other distant beings through time and space. Each generation opens their awareness of the self in a dialogue, and furthermore to reshape their spiritual and cultural lives. In Jake and Dinos Chapman’s “Chapman Family Collection, 2002”, they collected different face masks and sculptures of animals of different ethnic groups from the former British colonies around the world, some primitive ethnic groups even a melted McDonald’s emblem, the symbol of M, into their creative objects, including prayers, wishes, exorcism, shows, etc., which become the physical evidence of the cultural life of these nations. In this sense, the plunder of colonial culture is different from the plunder of a consumptive economy: it saved the remnants of the cultural life of the colony, helping the residents of the colony discover the value of indigenous civilizations from foreign perspectives. Otherwise, the objects treated as artworks, will fend for themselves in a closed system.
Modern art does not only collect for a materialized civilization, but also transforms things into the thing itself in the process of the collection. This also includes the display and collection of the technological process of an artifact which evolves from nature. Here, the physical properties of things and how to highlight them constitute one of the irreplaceable functions of the museum, making art different from other spiritual places such as philosophy, religion, etc. “Work, Made-ready, in Les Baux de Provence (Mountain Bike), 2001”, an installation by Simon Starling (1967 -), is the best proof of that. Under the eight modern lightings, the process of producing the fine aluminum tubes diverted for the collection from the waste ores from “Provence Beauty”, was vividly rendered. He cycled to the mountains of the Tassajara, in order to study the mineral culture, how to transform the functional aspects of the objects into something significant, then, a small-scale line of aluminum production was moved into the museum. In artistic language, the author followed the misappropriation methods of postmodern; in artistic concept, it seemed that he told people that: as long as people use their wisdom, any waste substances could regain the provision of its existence in modern society, becoming blissful aspect of modern life again.
n contrast to the misappropriation of the real things of Simon Starling, “The Great Bear, 1992” by Simon Patterson (1967 – ) is a form of paper misappropriation. Schema prototype of this lithographic print, packed into a glass aluminum box, was diverted from the extensive subway network map of London. The titles of the stations and hubs feature on the Toponymy, which is the most obvious feature. Patterson renamed all the subway lines, stations and hubs on the map according to some philosophers such as Plato, Spinoza Espinosa, Kierkegaard, artist Titian, as well as religious believers, such as San Antonio and Augustine, and etc., forming a new cultural network map. In other words, the “The Great Bear” is a collection and classified work of cultural history. Martin Creed (1968 – ) installed 39 metal – plastic metronomes, beating time according to a certain speed around the bases of the wall of the exhibition hall. It costed the time so that it is equivalent to the time taken to access a museum. When you walk into it, you would hear the sound as if a train was leaving, in the entire exhibition hall. A sound installation named “Work No. 112, 1995-04”, transforming time into an object in the space, actually it was the collection of the mental images of people during their visit to the museum, which together with others artists’ collections of real things, such as Damian Hirst’s collection of drugs, Mark Dane’s collection of waste, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s collection of cultural anthropological specimens, Simon Starling’s mineral collection, and Simon Patterson’s paper collection, constitute a prospect of a collection for civilization of contemporary art. Collection is a way of using the media of art language, and even becomes the creative method of an oil painting for the young British artists such as Gillian Carnegie (1971 – ), His “Black Square, 2008”, comprehensively captures the aspects of the history of art and collection of realities, the name was diverted directly from the works of the same name, by Kasimir Malevich (1978-1935), one of the representatives of the Russian supremacist, the content performed a special landscape taken as a photograph by the artist in Hampstend Heath, London, but he tried to avoid the monochrome abstract orientation of modernism.
Most of the works in the exhibition of “Classified” use installation as their media. On the logic of survival, this art form is rooted in the self-interest in a collection and collecting, rooted in the desire for rational order. Classified are no more than the outer forms of rational order. However, they are built on the foundation of the divine existence of an individual life. In modern society, it is no wonder that people not only need “collection” and “possession”, but also need the rights to “possession”. Therefore, a person has the absolute private rights to own the fruits of their labor, which is not only an economic problem, but is also related to the issues of existence and salivation of life. This is the reason why museology initially appeared in the UK, and is a force for contemporary British artists to indulge in the exhibition of “Classified”, as well as a direction of significance after our examination.
Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue Wang/CAFA ART INFO