Last night we bumped into Damien Hirst at the opening of CrASH, an exhibition of work by new artists in Camberwell, South London. Hirst has an awkward gait with his stocky 5’8” build, which is made to look comical by those massive purple-tinted Bono glasses. It’s a strange juxtaposition between international art star and bloke at the football. We thought we’d follow him as he was traipsing around the exhibition making fairly droll, simplistic observations. Comments like “Fuckin’ hell, look at that,” in his northern accent were refreshing to hear among the pompous art crowd who probably didn’t understand the pieces either- and it’s okay for him to do it because he is the world’s richest living artist- and he owns the gallery we were walking around in.

One of the rooms was an instillation made out to look like an office, but with two wax statues depicting aroused men, and some real life pigeons doing what pigeons do in there- eating, bobbing their heads, and shitting a lot.

Damien Hirst braves the pigeon shit to inspect the exhibition

I was curious to know what Hirst thought of the exhibition, so I went straight ahead and asked him. The bird noises at the start are being made by Hirst:

I like visceral reactions to art, which are evoked by Hirst’s own work, and also how he seems to react to other work. He said in an interview (a proper interview, not a heckle on a stairway) that he wants his work to be appealing to a bloke stumbling across it in the gutter on his way home from the pub- art which is judged primarily by an instict to say either “Wow, I like that’, or ‘I think that’s a piece of shit’. So I thought he may appreciate my analysis, but he walked off.

Parts of this exhibition were literally a piece of shit, as I pointed out in the video. I wasn’t really criticizing it, just referring to the actual presence of excrement in the gallery. The fact that Hirst thought it was funny means that he probably liked it- and I liked it too. The exhibition is inspired by J.G. Ballard’s novel Crash, which I can kind of see- putting pigeons in an office is a challenge to our concepts of civility and the restraint of our animal instincts. The sexual imagery of the car in Crash is repeated here with the statue of the erect male, juxtaposed with the sterile environment of the office, et cetera.

It may have been an interesting statement, but it wasn’t as visually arresting as Hirst’s own work, which demands an instant reaction. A formaldehyde shark? That’s cool. A diamond encrusted skull? Grotesque but expensive. Pigeons shitting in an office? It’s good, but not quite the same thing.