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West Yorkshire, United Kingdom
The Juice Magazine is a new publication being brought together by a group of young graduates and students, with a background in the arts. The focus of the magazine is to represent and support the growing community of emerging artists in Leeds and the wider area of West Yorkshire.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Love 'im or hate 'im.

It's hard to escape the preconceived ideas we all have about Damien Hirst. He's one of the Marmite-ien artists who have the public divided between genius and tosser.

My own ideas come from going to the same school as him, hearing from my art teacher about the kind of pupil he was, remembering the preserved moles, puppy embryos, insects and hyena head we had in the old wooden science blocks...

It also comes from living in Leeds. Feeling a sense of fondness when Look North runs a story about the 'Leeds born artist' exhibiting a 14ft shark in formaldehyde.

So when we attended the bloggers evening for Hirst's exhibition in Leeds Art Gallery, I was expecting to see the old favourites, butterflies, skulls, spot paintings and some sort of formaldehyde animal.

All were present in the first room we saw. We also saw a huge cabinet of medical dummies and paraphernalia, a sculpture of an angel with its insides exposed and light box images of pills.

There was also a picture taken of Hirst as a 16 year old, smiling next to a bloated human head from the pathology unit at Leeds University. Curator, Nigel Walsh, described this photo as a self portrait. But I struggled to see it as anything more than a teenage joke, a chance opportunity to be a bit silly next to a dead head. Had it been taken now it would probably have been his facebook profile picture.

But images like that are part of what Hirst thrives on. The eternal question of what qualifies as art? The picture certainly fitted in with the rest of the show, giving us a glimpse into his fascination with death and preservation, but I don't think it was taken with the intention of ever been exhibited..

The second room we were taken into was the recreation of his famous Notting Hill restaurant, Pharmacy. As it was still being installed we stepped into a nostalgic (for some) room with flashing neons and medical/religious print wallpaper. Match boxes that are probably worth more than my house adorned the walls and lay temptingly in ashtrays that were waiting to be set on the tables. A cabinet full of 'PH' wine (vintage unknown) standing proudly above them.

It was exciting to see it in it's unfinished state, the most ambitious piece in the exhibit. It was as though the room before was an introduction to Hirst, showing us all what we expected to see and this recreation was saying 'but look what else he can do'.

When a living, functioning, public art work is recreated for an exhibition, it's hard to capture the original spirit. The way the audience experiences the work is going to be completely different. The interaction has to come from their imagination and relies heavily on the visual impact it makes and a hope that they can sense those that have been here before.

I'm thrilled that Leeds can finally welcome back it's celebrated son and hope that everyone whether they love or hate his work will get to Leeds Art Gallery between July 15th and October 30th to see what will surely be a rare opportunity to see this giants work in his hometown.