New Religion is a rarely seen exhibition of a body of Damien Hirst’s works from 2005 that provokes the question, has science become our new religion?
Silkscreen prints, sculptural pieces and paintings are laid out like Stations of the Cross, around an altar, with a series of surgical images of a body scarred with stigmata-like wounds hung above the visitor, in place of the crucified Christ.
And each image, each station, replaces a scene from Jesus’ journey to crucifixion with a drug, for example paracetamol (the purity of white – evocative of both life and death) or Tylenol, another headache tablet (in the more subdued and reflective blue), and a reference to a bible verse, moving from Creation to The Last Judgment.
The message that we have replaced a blind faith in religion with a blind faith in science – all in a desperate, and arguably futile, attempt to avoid death and suffering – is clear. And the works on show include some of the iconic imagery that have become Damien Hirst trademarks, such as the skull and the butterfly, representing metamorphosis and new life.
There’s a lot in these works. Each Station is loaded with meaning, whether it’s in the pharmaceuticals chosen, the colour palettes deliberately picked or the Bible verses referred to in each print. And The Lightbox has admirably done a lot to help visitors with leaflets available to help interpret the pieces, as well as the provision of bibles and pharmaceutical reference books.
But whether you use these or not, Damien Hirst’s message on what has become the New Religion is unequivocal. But, as Damien talks about in a video interview that runs on loop outside the exhibition, our veneration of science is quite bizarre, for even if we avoid disease and illness, we are still going to die. There is no getting out of life alive, so what are we chasing?
And as Damien demonstrates quite beautifully in The Holy Spirit, a scientific pie chart that splits the Holy Trinity exactly and perfectly into three equal slices, representing the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, where is the room in that set-up for individual choice? In a religion which wholly worships either deities or science, what room does that leave for human endeavours and sprit? Is our soul truly irrelevant, whichever religion we worship?
Our complex relationship with death, and our reactions to it, is a recurring theme in Damien’s work and well represented here. Congratulations to The Lightbox for obtaining permission to show this exhibition as this is the first time these pieces have been on display in the UK for 10 years, and the first time they have ever been shown outside of London so grab the opportunity to see these works if you can as it does not come around often.
The Lightbox, Woking, Surrey to July 5, 2015
- The Skull Beneath the Skin (2005), Courtesy Paul Stolper Gallery © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2015
- The Eucharist (2005), Courtesy Paul Stolper Gallery © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2015
- The Soul on Jacob’s Ladder (2005), Courtesy Paul Stolper Gallery © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2015
This article is also available on the Huffington Post UK website.