Saturday, April 8, 2017

Unbelievable! Damien Hirst in Venice: Best Seen Through the Eyes of a Child

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable by Damien Hirst - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) What is most interesting about Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is that Damien Hirst has hit upon on a creative principle innate to novelists: you can create a fictional story; you can create characters -- you can create an entire world -- and bring that world to life.

The wonderful thing about books is that each reader uses their own imagination to interpret the story and the characters with the words the author provides. There is a magical transformation that happens in the mind of a human being that can turn the novelist's words into vivid images, allowing us to enter into another world that sometimes feels as real as the one in which we actually live. Reading a book is different from watching a movie or a play. When we read, the story is not outside, but inside one's mind.


Will viewers step into a fictional world populated with physical objects that an artist has created?

Damien Hirst has invented a story that goes something like this: In 2008, a wreck was discovered off the coast of East Africa, full of precious works of art. It was the ancient ship called the Apistos, or the "Unbelievable," of the great collector, Amotan, who had once been a slave from Antioch, and lived around the year 200 AD. The Unbelievable was on its way to a temple built by Amotan, now a freed slave "bloated with excess wealth" to house his fabled treasures, when it sank. The immense wealth of the great collector was submerged in the Indian Ocean for about 2,000 years, heavily encrusted in corals and other marine life.

Proteus with Three Divers by Damien Hirst - Photo: Cat Bauer
The shows inside the Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi exhibit the sculptures and artifacts in three different stages: some in the condition in which they were found, some after restoration, and some contemporary museum copies which imagine the works in their original, undamaged forms. In addition, there are also underwater photos, which illustrate how the works looked when they were in the Indian Ocean. There is also a booklet that explains the myths and origins behind the works. The Shield of Achilles is there; the Severed Head of Medusa; the Skull of a Unicorn. There is also Mickey Mouse, and characters from The Jungle Book and Transformers.

Got that?

Proteus by Damien Hirst - Photo: Cat Bauer
That Damien Hirst believes the story he invented is without a doubt. As he told Will Gompert of the BBC: "For me, the show is totally about belief. You can believe whatever you want to believe. I believe the story of the collector from 2,000 years ago. I've spent so much time on it that it's not a lie. ... I just believe it. You have to believe it... If I close my eyes, I can see this guy. And you're going to tell me that's not real?"

As John Lennon famously said, "A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together becomes reality."

The Collector with a Friend by Damien Hirst - Photo: Cat Bauer
Since the works were obviously done by a contemporary hand when seen through adult eyes, I imagined how the story would look through the eyes of a child, wandering through the cavernous halls of the Punta della Dogana and the immense Venetian palace, Palazzo Grassi. Luckily, I stumbled upon a couple of kids, and asked them their opinions. The girl, around six, with red hair and blue eyes was shy, and said that she liked it. However, her brother, about eight, was more enthusiastic; he thought it was great.

"Do you think that the objects are real, or do you think that the artist created them?" I asked.

He laughed. "I don't care!"

If you'd like to know more, Katherine Tyrrell at Making a Mark "a top art blog for artists and art lovers" has compiled an excellent round-up of the exhibition with links to reviews, including this one.

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. Damien Hirst, curated by Elena Geuna at Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi runs from April 9 to December 3, 2017.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. What is most interesting about Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is that Damien Hirst has hit upon on a creative principle innate to novelists: you can create a fictional story; you can create characters -- you can create an entire world -- and bring that world to life.

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