Damien Hirst gets iconic
I’ve talked about brands before, on occasion. Logos and branding are an integral part of everyday life. Unavoidable in fact. And with logos and brands, have come icons.
It’s a funny word, ‘icon’. Of course, the word has an ancient heritage – derived from the Greek εἰκών (eikõn), it originally meant an ‘image’. Hence in Colossians 1:15, Christ is the eikõn of the invisible God. He makes the invisible visible. It’s not hard to see, therefore, how Eastern Orthodox iconography evolved. Of course, this is not what the word connotes for an average 21st Century person. To some it means a person whose image somehow encapsulates an era or subculture, a heroic or celebrated figure like Mandela or Clint Eastwood or Marilyn Monroe. It’s even the name given to the cringingly trendy rapper in the “Rev.” second episode. But to perhaps the majority today, an icon is simply a few pixels on a computer screen which you click to open folders or software.
Round the corner from where we live is a rather unassuming, but clearly stylish, shop. It’s got a bland, but perhaps knowing, name – Other Criteria. And it’s part of the Damien Hirst empire. He’s certainly no slouch when it comes to making money (correction – a LOT of money) from his creativity. And he knows what he’s doing. Is he saying with the shop title, ‘don’t judge me by the old criteria as used by art critics (who are often pretty dismissive)’?
I often walk past the shop several times a day, and it’s got me musing. Because, as so often, Hirst seems to be playing with us. Look at the 4 icons in the window’s centre. The first, yellow one, is a riff on medical tablets – evoking his 1992 Pharmacy installation. But the weird thing is that when I first walked past it, I misread it – i thought it was saying Christ, as if in a modern update of some Roman catacomb graffito. Crazy? Well not when you see what’s next to it: logo forms of the communion chalice, the cross and the fire of Pentecost perhaps? Hirst has taken Christian themes before (e.g. with his skulls entitled For the Love of God).
So what’s he playing at here? Is it just a joke? An appropriation and commercialisation of still recognisable symbols? Making a serious point? None or all of the above?!
I can’t make up my mind. Any thoughts…?