Damien Hirst’s Natural History series is very interesting as well as outrageous and problematic. The piece The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) displays a fourteen-foot tiger shark suspended in gaping attack in a vitrine of formaldehyde. Through time the piece started to show signs of decay, forcing art conservators to resort to drastic measures in order to maintain the work in its original form, ultimately leading to the shark being replaced by a fresh specimen brought in from Australia.
Lange-Berndt explores the notions of decomposition in terms of Hirst’s knowledge of the shark eventually rotting, keeping the animals of his natural history series in a zombie-like undead state. The fact that Hirst created a company, Science Ltd., offering to replace any animal in his series older than ten yers, really questions the authenticity and aura of his pieces, bringing us back to Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. What does it mean for The Physical Impossibility of Death to be given this narrative of constant reproduction? Does the artwork in fact loose its aura, or do the problems surrounding it actually add to its history? As Lange-Berndt asks, at what point is it no longer reasonable to make a remake? And can we look at Hirst’s natural history series as a truthful portrayal of nature and history? Not only does the piece question authenticity, but it toys with the notion of art having a certain uniqueness, that is impossible to reproduce.
Lange-Berndt, Petra. “Replication and Decay in Damien Hirst’s Natural History”. Tate Papers, issue 8, Autumn 2007. Web