The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Somebody Living, 1991

Within my contextual research, I wanted to look at Damien Hirst’s, Natural History Collection. This is because I feel it links in with my visits to the Natural History Museum and The Grant Museum. As I have previously been focused on the bone structures and patterns, Damien Hirst’s Natural History Collection allows me to look at the animal as a whole. In the Natural History Collection, we see full animals placed in formaldehyde-filled tanks, preserving the animals in their natural glory.

His most famous work in this collection is entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Somebody Living. This piece was created in 1991 for the British collector Charles Saatchi. It comprises of a tiger shark floating in a giant tank. This piece is breath-taking. In my opinion this piece was successful because it is not an everyday event that we get to see an animal such as the tiger shark in this light.

My Interpretation

The fact that the shark is often associated with danger gives this piece a lot of depth. On first appearance, the shark looks terrifying, almost as if he is swimming furiously through the water, ready to catch his prey. But by placing the shark in a tank and taking him out of his environment, this somehow takes the fear factor away. It feels as if the shark has been frozen. Yes, it has been preserved, but it does almost feel like we are just spectators of a moment frozen in time. The fact that the shark is displayed in this manner almost makes me feel sad and slightly sympathetic to the shark. We are viewing the shark in its natural state, in the most unnatural way possible. In a box placed in the middle of an art gallery. It has not been done for scientific reasons, but we are viewing this shark as an object. This makes me question the reason for Hirst creating this piece. Was it to create some form of awareness or for us to start thinking of the natural world, in this case the shark, as a thing of beauty, much like how we think about a great piece of art.

I see this piece as statement. It is bold and feels quite boisterous, but when you really look at it and start thinking about what you seeing. You then start to feel a little more emotional. This is due to the fact that what lye’s within the tank is a real living thing. It lives on the planet for the reasons as we humans do. It makes me think about how just because we don’t see these amazing animals regularly in the flesh, that we don’t appreciate them. We don’t appreciate them enough to look after their environment or their well-being. We tend to represent them how we see fit. Whether that be in the media or for entrainment reasons.

Nature is art in its own right. It is naturally formed and it should be respected, looked after and appreciated, just the same as we do with any another masterpiece. This piece makes me think about how we have allowed and have been part of the slow demise of so many beautiful creatures. How life and death is insignificant, unless it directly effects us and our individual lives. The title ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Somebody Living’, directly refers to death, therefore this piece almost becomes a statement of death itself. How do we as individuals see death, how do we face it and ultimately understand it. By looking at the shark as dead instead of living, it almost makes me feel as if you are directly facing death. Here we are looking death straight in the eye, but in this case it come is the form of a shark, floating in box, in the middle of a gallery.

Image result for damien hirst shark


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