On the eve of Damien Hirst’s first major retrospective in the UK, his extensive body of work has been re-catalogued online courtesy of a new website from Bureau for Visual Affairs. It also features a live studio feed, part of an attempt to “communicate the artist a little better” say the studio…
Hirst of course needs little introduction and prior to his Tate show, which opens tomorrow, appraisals of his current standing in the art world have hardly been out of the media. Following Julian Spalding’s anti-conceptual art tirade in The Independent and Hari Kunzru’s more analytical piece in The Guardian on the current state of the art market (and Hirst’s place in it), the artist has appeared on Newsnight and in a Channel 4 programme dedicated to the Tate show. There’s now even an online Private View tour of the exhibition with Noel Fielding.
So hitting the new Hirst website at damienhirst.com, the first thing you see is a kind of riposte to one of the accusations often levelled at the way he works – that he depends upon a series of assistants to make his art. Hence the live, two camera feed direct from his studio where, at the moment, two Hirst staffers are working on a piece made of hundreds of scalpels. ‘Look – here’s how it’s done,’ it seems to say.
“The live feed is about being transparent, so you can see how the art is created,” says BfVA’s Simon Piehl. “Maybe within the art world, the fact that he doesn’t create everything himself has been levelled at him, but this feed is not a statement. In most cases when you see art, you see the result not the process, people only interact with the finished products in a rarefied environment. I think seeing the art come alive is quite novel, in that sense. It’s part of what makes Hirst ‘Hirst’.”
The feed will follow particular pieces as they are created, with the plan to make these sequences available as time-lapse videos which can then be linked up with information on the finished artworks. BfVA were keen to move away from using a well known piece by Hirst as a starting point for the site and instead, says Piehl, “begin with something mildly outrageous, which sets the tone for the experience.”
With their minimalist and pared back approach to design, BfVA’s work also fits well with Hirst’s. “In terms of artists, I think it’s Hirst whose work comes nearest to graphic design,” says Piehl. “The spot paintings are clearly quite graphic [and] … a lot of the art has a clinical, medical subject matter. This is why Bureau and Hirst are well suited; we are also interested in modularity, classifying like with like. We like a structural approach to things as well, and much of his work is like that. So we have some affinity with his work.”
The only design reference to the art itself, says Piehl, is the colour of the buttons which are taken from various spots from Hirst’s spot paintings. “The design you see now is a direct ancestor of what we first presented: it’s quite modular and utilitarian, but it is rooted in Hirst’s work,” says Piehl. Jason Beard [art director at Hirst’s company, Science] oversaw the visuals and the project was led by Andry Moustras.”
With each of Hirst’s works (250 of them will eventually be catalogued on the website) users can also zoom in to see the finer details, something that BfVA were keen to bring to the ‘vitrine’ works in particular. All of the pieces can be examined close-up, in preference to flicking between differently angled shots of a given piece, “which isn’t very explorative,” says Piehl. “We used this zoom technique with our work for the National Gallery, where there’s a lot of very fine craftsmanship at brushstroke-level. In the case of the Hirst site, you can decipher the art better.”
Three main images of the The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living can each be examined close up in fine detail.
The website also includes news, events and exhibitions pages, with a section dedicated to films, interviews and animations of some of Hirst’s pieces. His show at Tate Modern opens tomorrow and runs until September 9. See tate.org.uk.
More of BfVA’s work at bureau-va.com.