Art’s a Sci­ence

Bespoke - - MARC QUINN -

Marc Quinn is one of the world’s most im­por­tant liv­ing artists. Hav­ing emerged in the early 1990s, his or­ganic ready­mades and sculp­tures of the hu­man body have pro­voked as­ton­ish­ment and en­thu­si­asm – in equal mea­sure – and though he may have soft­ened with age, he still looks to the rig­or­ous world of sci­ence for guid­ance.

Look­ing at Marc Quinn’s most re­cent work in the Mid­dle East, as part of an in­au­gu­ral ‘The World Meets Here’ group show in Dubai’s Cus­tot Gallery, it’s dif­fi­cult not to re­flect on what a far cry it is from that which first brought him to fame. If “blood head” doesn’t sound fa­mil­iar, then maybe his ini­tial as­so­ci­a­tion with YBA (Young Bri­tish Artists, such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin) in the 1990s will res­onate, though most of those artists have moved on in their own in­di­vid­ual ca­reers. Given their link to shock value and so­cial spec­ta­cle, it is an af­fil­i­a­tion Quinn doesn’t re­ally want to think about to­day. “That was a long time ago,” he says dur­ing a quick chat at the gallery af­ter his open­ing talk. None­the­less, he is still feed­ing a blood head to­day, the sixth in the se­ries of ‘Self’ in fact. Hav­ing started with the first in 1991, th­ese eerie repli­cas of his own head, cast in al­most five litres of his own blood (drawn over a five month pe­riod for the sake of his own sur­vival) have been grow­ing in num­ber by a rate of one piece ev­ery five years. Each is dis­em­bod­ied and sits atop a stain­less-steel plinth con­tain­ing a re­frig­er­a­tion unit that keeps it in a solid state by re­main­ing frozen at -18 de­grees Cel­sius. Charles Saatchi bought the first but in 2005 he sold it to Amer­i­can hedge-fund man­ager, Steve Co­hen, for a re­ported 1.5 mil­lion GBP (al­most 3 mil­lion USD at that time). “It’s like Beck­ett does Rem­brandt be­cause it’s self-repet­i­tive,” says Quinn wryly, re­fer­ring to the lat­ter’s nu­mer­ous self-por­traits, “I wanted to make a sculp­ture that is as real as pos­si­ble, that’s made of me. It is the ul­ti­mate por­trait.” He points out that the heads can even func­tion as repos­i­to­ries since you could tech­ni­cally per­form a biopsy on each one to learn more about the health of his body at that par­tic­u­lar mo­ment. The closer you get to Quinn’s works, the more you iden­tify a cer­tain mor­bid­ity (yes, he did cre­ate those paint­ings and sculp­tures in 1997, us­ing his own ex­cre­ment) but in many ways, they have more to do with life than death. It’s not in fact art for art’s sake since un­der­pin­ning his oeu­vre is a great fas­ci­na­tion with the nat­u­ral world, a need to un­der­stand it and the knowl­edge it brings. “I like to make art that re­flects the world we live in. We are all em­bod­ied be­ings – we can­not be alive with­out be­ing in­side the body – this is uni­ver­sal. So it’s para­dox­i­cal that ‘Self’ looks like an im­age of death. It has the same amount of blood as my own body – and I’m still alive. It refers to the amaz­ing abil­ity of the body to recre­ate it­self and how we take for granted a whole in­fras­truc­ture that sup­ports us.” In an in­ter­est­ing par­al­lel, when his first ‘Self’ be­gan to age through des­ic­ca­tion, Quinn turned to a team of sci­en­tists for help. The so­lu­tion turned out to be sil­i­cone oil, which forms a bar­rier to pre­vent the mould from dry­ing out. More than an artist of grand ges­tures, Quinn of­ten pushes the bound­aries be­tween art and sci­ence in his ex­per­i­ments to cre­ate long-last­ing art. Be­cause of his open­ness to other dis­ci­plines and paths to knowl­edge, he says he made sure not to study art at univer­sity, opt­ing in­stead to read His­tory and Art His­tory at Cam­bridge. Yet it is sci­ence that truly per­me­ates his work. The in­cli­na­tion might have started be­cause his fa­ther was a physi­cist but whether it was due to chance or en­vi­ron­ment, Quinn isn’t con­tent with facile meth­ods. His freez­ing tech­nique lead to fur­ther ex­plo­rations with liq­uid sil­i­cone, this time 25 tonnes of it plunged in a large-scale walk-through ‘Gar­den’ in­stal­la­tion for the Prada Foun­da­tion in 2000 – an im­pos­si­bly colour­ful ar­ti­fi­cial par­adise of pre­served flow­ers. “Like my head, ‘Gar­den’ looks like it’s alive but it’s a hal­lu­ci­na­tion – a mo­ment of trans­for­ma­tion from real life into art. It’s a sculp­ture of plants made in the ma­te­rial of plants. Hu­man de­sire brought all of th­ese flow­ers to­gether; you nor­mally wouldn’t find them in the same part of the world. The flower gives up life for eter­nity – like all things, it stays beau­ti­ful be­cause it dies young.” Tak­ing his work even fur­ther afield, Quinn’s 2001 por­trait of the No­bel Prize-win­ning ge­neti­cist Sir John Sul­ston, con­sisted of apiece of poly­car­bon­ate agar jelly, bac­te­ria colonies (cloned from a sin­gle sperm cell con­tain­ing part of Sul­ston’s full genome) and a gel cell, en­closed in a re­frig­er­ated, stain­less steel frame. “That’s as real as you can get be­cause the DNA con­tains the map for you to re-make your­self.”

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