Yesterday the beautiful Joanna Lumley launched a new initiative from high-street superstore Marks and Spencer, entitled Shwopping. The retailer’s new permanent nationwide sustainable fashion and clothes recycling initiative will enable all customers to hand in any old or unwanted item of clothing, from any brand, when they buy a garment in store. Donated items can then be reused, resold or recycled through campaign partner Oxfam.
To grab some headlines and get the campaign off to a good start, East London's Brick Lane was swathed in almost 10,000 items of clothing to symbolise the amount of clothes thrown into UK landfill every five minutes.
Interestingly the photo opportunity also revealed that Joanna Lumley will be the face of the campaign and the retailer’s new and first ever global eco and ethical ambassador. One small step for the British high street, one giant leap for mankind!
A company that SIX has been eager to write about for a while is Good Work(s) Make A Difference®, who spread a message of humanitarianism and good will through their striking range of products. Committed to donating 25% of net profits to good causes that inspire, empower, and give hope to people around the world, never has accessorising felt so good!
One of Good Work(s)’s most popular product ranges is the wrap around bracelet, available in a plethora of bright and interesting colours such as teal, magenta, gold and silver. With several options including length, finish and stud detailing, customers have several options when it comes to customising. ‘Live in unity’, ‘sow love’, ‘speak kindness’, ‘forgive’ and ‘make a difference’ are just some of the wise and motivational words that come inscribed on the outside edge, promoting essential virtues and wisdom.
Today my favourite modern political figure (and heroine) is immortalised in a portrait to go on display in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.
In a commission by British Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, Shami Chakrabarti, Director of campaign group Liberty, is depicted in a black and white photograph holding a wax mask of herself hanging from a ribbon.
The notion of the ‘mask’ has previously occupied Wearing, but for this commission the idea was initially prompted by Chakrabarti who commented to Wearing that her public persona is mask-like, often interpreted as ‘grim’, ‘worthy’ and ‘strident’.
Chakrabarti first sat for the portrait in September 2010, when she was digitally scanned for the wax mask – preferable to a plaster life-cast as it does not distort features. The mask was carefully sculpted and coloured, and includes glass eyes. Chakrabarti then returned to Gillian’s studio in April 2011 to be photographed with the mask.
A common thread that runs throughout Wearing’s work, some of which is currently exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery, is the disparity between public and private life and between individual and collective experience. This is particularly potent in the portrayal of Chakrabarti, a public figure whose work consistently raises issues relating to privacy and identity.
Shami Chakrabati is on display from 18 - 22 April 2012 in the National Portrait Gallery’s Contemporary Galleries (Room 40). The portrait will then go on display again from Wednesday 27th June.
One of the biggest trends of last year set to continue its dominance in SS12 is that of the humble print. Worn in any way, this spring prints are designed to clash. Whether you’re brave enough to go head-to-toe in either matching or clashing, or would prefer to ease yourself into the trend, print can be worked into the most basic of outfits through accessories as subtle as a skinny belt or Alice band.
The most popular prints to grace the SS12 catwalks of the likes of Mary Katrantzou, Anna Sui, Christopher Kane and Ashish were flora and fauna, the most visceral representation of spring and vitality possible. Be advised, oversized florals are tricky to pull off on curvy silhouettes, however ditsy prints work for all heights and body shapes, and are for all intents and purposes, the safe bet. Smudged florals are also proving popular.
For playful prints look to Dries Van Noten’s tropical palm trees and Marc by Marc Jacobs and Giles for a plethora of birds. Other nature-inspired prints have proved to be huge hits on the Hollywood red carpets; think reptile skins as favoured by Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba. To take the look one step further opt for a leopard print or tiger striped manicure.
Launching her eponymous label in November 2010, Reem Juan is a relatively new designer creating a stir with a unique take on opulent luxury. Flirty, feminine, subtle and sexy, ‘50s hourglass silhouettes are a mainstay of signature pieces, with Reem referencing the exquisite beauty of classic Hollywood actresses such as Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.
Fusing a melting pot of influences, fairytales are a starting point: white peacocks, unicorns and secret gardens are deftly mixed with bohemian lace and embroidered shawls of traditional gypsies. Further still, the Ballet Russe informs this love affair of decadent fabrics and glamorous nostalgia.
Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, and educated in London, Juan cites her design aesthetic as a fusion between east and western cultures, symbolising high end luxury at its finest. Seductive garments are the perfect combination of classic and timeless silhouettes with superior cuts and detailing.
Today is a special day on the British art calendar. The long awaited first major ‘survey’ of YBA Damien Hirst’s work in the UK is about to open at Tate Modern. Featuring over 70 seminal works, Damien Hirst (the retrospective) pulls together the controversial artist’s most recognisable works in an exhibition that forms part of the Cultural Olympiad.
In many ways flying the flag for British art over the past 25 years, love him or loathe him, Hirst embodies a space in time, much like a musician of the ‘90s, when boundaries were there to be broken by the young modernizers, critics were at the whim of shock and awe tactics and gallerists and collectors were falling all over themselves for a piece of ‘it’.
One of the most notorious artists of modern time, a lot has been written about Hirst: if you Google his name you’ll find an astonishing 23,900,000 entries as of (10 am) this morning. Most recently, curator Julian Spalding spoke of his work as being ‘worthless’, encouraging owners to ‘sell before the market realises’ it holds no value. Whether this admonishment, a mere week before the most important exhibition of Hirst’s life opens, falls into the category of ‘all publicity is good publicity’, or is simply an unmasked scathing attack to be taken at face value, remains to be seen. What will indubitably be decided is whether the British public happen to agree.
Generally speaking, when Damien Hirst’s name crops up in a conversation, in a pub per se, on the whole the response is rather tepid, with many lamenting and admonishing, saying they do not understand his work, or worse still that these is no substance behind his ‘brand’ of art. It seems that in spite of Hirst’s long and accomplished career to date, being widely regarded as the most successful contemporary artist of his generation, he is yet to win over the hearts and minds of the ‘average Joe’.
I am an ardent fan of Hirst for three reasons. Firstly, his thought processes are genius (naysayers should delve a little deeper at the inquisitiveness behind the persona, which is in essence what propels all artists to ‘create’). Secondly, Hirst’s ability to build a brand synonymous with polka dots and create an artistic legacy deserves some credit. Lastly, I, on the whole, like to be shocked from time to time, and to feel as though the art world has advanced rather than stagnated at a crossroads of passivity and insipidity.
I feel that Hirst pushes the buttons that at times keeps the mechanism of modern art moving, with the millions of column inches dedicated to the artist providing the oil to keep, perhaps one of our most overlooked of British exports, modern art, ticking over.
Opening with work Hirst created while studying for his BA at Goldsmith’s College, Damien Hirst (the retrospective) starts, for all intents and purposes, at the very beginning. Like any great back-catalogue, it is with awe that you can walk through a series of rooms chronicling the career highs and lows of someone’s life so astutely, and Hirst’s life’s work spanning almost a quarter of a century is no exception.
As visitors enter the exhibition they’re met with several works dating back to Freeze, the exhibition Hirst conceived and curated while studying in 1988, famously attended by Charles Saatchi.
With Dead Head, 1991
When looking at Hirst’s work through the years it is easy to surmise that a clear rhyme to the artist’s work is morbid curiosity and the transient nature of life, giving voice to prevalent dualities. It is this very curiosity depicted in the 1991 image With Dead Head that so early on informed the best part of a life’s work. In this photograph we see the artist as a teenager posing with a specimen from the anatomy department of Leeds University, where the inspiration for much of his work derives.
In the group of works that can be described as ‘The Natural History’ series: pickled sheep, cows and doves, the butterflies, the flies or the fish (arranged on shelves and appear to be floating within their final resting place), Hirst likes to experiment with death and extinction, at times applying these basic lessons of life to the inanimate object, displaying them as specimens; shells, glasses, surgical equipment and, most notably and recurrently, cigarettes.
With cigarettes Hirst can go deeper. Preserving and suspending a shark in formaldehyde for the 1991 work The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living was groundbreaking and original, however it was and always will be a literal representation of an idea, perfectly capitulating to his museological and scientific interests.
Wanting to engage the viewer’s primal fear, when developing the idea for The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living Hirst thought to himself, ‘if I can get one in a big enough space, actually in liquid, big enough to frighten you, you will feel like you’re in there with it, feel that it could eat you’, which works on many levels.
In Crematorium, 1996, Hirst constructed a giant disproportionate fibreglass ashtray (large enough to be a super Jacuzzi), and filled it with a lifetime’s accumulation of cigarettes. Ash is used as a powerful metaphor for human remains, and signifies the very end, creating a contemporary ‘memento mori’ which is a stark reminder of the inevitability and finality of death.
Earlier in 1991, Hirst produced many cigarette inspired works such as The Acquired Inability to Escape and In and Out of Love, which effectively preserve the inane in life and examine the possibility that extinguishing a cigarette can be much like the extinction of a species.
In Dead Ends Died Out, Examined, 1993 Hirst presents cigarette butts lined along the shelves of a cabinet. By cataloguing and displaying discarded cigarettes as he would later go on to do with fish and butterflies (and much later diamonds), Hirst is preserving his artefacts and subjects much like a historian would for a history exhibit.
Pharmacy, 1992 is yet another seminal work that plays into this theme. Meticulously collecting and arranging thousands of boxes and jars, Hirst’s Pharmacy resembles an old apothecary and is probably better stocked than my local chemist: I’ve always wondered if real out-of-date drugs are concealed within the respective jars, sealed within this vast display for eternity.
In the first medicine cabinet he created, Sinner, 1988 Hirst incorporated the personal prescriptions of his deceased grandmother. The resulting cabinets inspired by this early work represent an oblique way of visualising the body, with each of the medicines in view signifying different ailments, making the viewer think of particular organs and parts of the body.
Next up in 1994 came Doubt and Still which displayed iconography of medical science beyond the pharmaceutical. A collection of stainless steel, nickel and brass instruments, displayed in towering stainless steel cabinets; essentially these works simply display a long list of equipment one would find in an operating theatre suggesting a sterility, while insinuated undercurrents of the invasive procedures that oversized scissors, pincers, pliers, hand-saws and Vernier gauges are used for bubble in the background.
A theme later revisited in 2006’s Lapdancer and the 2009 work Invasion, it is the ingenuity of 2000’s Trinity – Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology that is the crowning glory of this series. Deftly bringing together three branches of medicine in resonance of the Holy Trinity, Hirst draws parallels between science and religion throughout his career’s work, but perhaps never as directly as this. Trinity – Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology directly examines the core values and belief systems of both religion and science, whilst highlighting the conflicts, through a display of medical teaching objects and demonstration aids.
In 2005, Hirst said of Trinity – Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology; “There [are] four important things in life: religion, life, art and science. At their best, they’re all tools to help you find a path through the darkness. None of them really work that well… Of them all science seems to be the one… like religion it provides the glimmer of hope that maybe it will be all right in the end…”
Evident in many of Hirst work’s which are preserved behind glass, is the inspiration of Francis Bacon. Hirst says: “Bacon’s like: ‘It’s a doorway, it’s a window, it’s two dimensional, it’s three dimensional, he’s thinking about the glass reflecting’”.
A Thousand Years made in 1990 is the first of Hirst’s works where an arrangement of components are enclosed within a glass vitrine. Within its confines the entire lifecycle, of which Hirst has a vested interest, is played out for the viewer in a combination of beauty and horror. Maggots hatch inside a minimal white box, develop into flies, then feed on a severed cow’s head, which is been placed on the floor of the vitrine.
Those unfamiliar with the work may not at first understand what it is. On first inspection all you see is the hundreds, if not thousands, of flies flying around their enclosure. In another section of the vitrine lies an insect-o-cutor, which prematurely ends the lives of many flies, while the rest are spared to complete the life cycle and keep the installation alive.
This work is pivotal in the progression of Hirst’s later works and thought processes as it is the first instance where he attempts to recreate the enactment of birth, death and decay. Of this work Hirst says: “It was the first time I had ever made something that had a life of its own… something that I had no control over.”
Juxtaposed in with the more macabre and sombre works are the more playful works such as Loving in a world of Desire, 1996 which comprises a giant beach ball hovering above a coloured box. Suspended above a jet of air, the sphere flutters over the structure in an interplay of precariousness and balance. This is perhaps one of the few works in Damien Hirst (the retrospective), that shows Hirst’s light-hearted approach and utilises elements of physics more than chemistry and biology.
Among his most recognisable works are the 'Spot Paintings' which emerged from Hirst’s attempts to find ‘a structure where I could lay [colour] down, be in control of it, rather than it controlling me’. What is perhaps most interesting about these works that appear so simple on the surface is the scientific approach Hirst applies to everything, including painting: each spot is painted a different colour, is a uniform size – equal to the size of the spaces between each dot – and is meticulously arranged on a white grid-like structure.
Perhaps the most spectacular work on display is the 1991 installation, In and Out of Love, reconstructed for the first time in 21 years. Displayed alongside the monochrome canvases adorned with dead butterflies and overflowing ashtrays, in an adjacent room visitors are invited into a semi-sealed humid environment. Large white canvases adorn the walls and are embedded with pupae. Butterflies hatch from the ‘paintings’ and are left to fly freely around the room feeding on sugar water and flowers, mating and laying eggs in Hirst’s most ambitious and interactive installation to date. Whilst undeniably beautiful, I didn’t linger.
What is great about this exhibition is the concentration on the early half of Hirst’s career, delving deep into the creative genius that, whilst controversial, is unlike any other practising artist in the UK. What is apparent when following the exhibition path laid out in the guide, is the lack of impact the most recent works have, coming across in the most extreme cases as a tad gimmicky and perhaps not progressive enough (Judgement Day, 2009; Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, 2007 and For the Love of God, 2007).
Some latter works, however, such as 2007’s Doorways to the Kingdom of Heaven inspire. In this beautiful and fragile triptych butterflies are arranged into complex patterns reminiscent of medieval stained glass church windows, affixed to arch shaped canvases.
2004’s Black Sun is mesmerising and repulsive all at once. With a surface densely covered in clusters of dead flies, Black Sun provides a dark contrast to the beauty of the butterfly paintings, perhaps one of Hirst’s most sombre and repulsive literal representations of death and decay.
The final exhibit The Incomplete Truth, 2006 is serene in its simplicity; a dove is suspended in formaldehyde as if in mid-flight. Brimming with symbolic associations (a messenger of hope, the bodily form of the Holy Spirit in Christian iconography and a secular symbol of peace), the title is equivocal and perfectly sums up Hirst’s entire body of work – truth resides, not in absolutes, but in dualities and the continual push and pull between polar opposites, with the most obvious example being life and death.
Even if you don’t like Damien Hirst I encourage as many people as possible to see this grand celebration of an exhibition, if only so you can formulate an astute argument next time we meet at the pub!
Damien Hirst (the retrospective) is showing at Tate Modern until 9 September.
All photographs on this site are the property of Creative-Idle/ Rachael Oku. Other images taken by third parties are credited within the relevant post. If you would like to use any of my photographs please ask.