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Damien Hirst (b. 1965)
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Damien Hirst (b. 1965)

Wretched War

Damien Hirst (b. 1965)
Wretched War
incised with title 'wretched war' (on the side of the base)
62½ x 25½ x 33in. (158.7 x 64.8 x 83.8cm.)
Executed in 2004, this work is from an edition of ten
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner.
Damien Hirst, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Selected Works from 1989-2004, exh. cat., Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, 2004 (another from the edition illustrated in colour, p. 246).
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Lot Essay

Like some shattered civic statuary from a nightmarish, dystopian parallel universe, Wretched War combines many of the themes central to Damien Hirst's art, including science, beauty and death. The figure of the striding woman, shown conventionally from one side and like an educational cutaway from the other, resembles a classroom prop, raised to the status of statue by its larger-than-life reincarnation in bronze. The pregnancy of the woman, with the foetus visible from some angles, is jarringly contrasted with the context of death, decapitation and destruction. The head has been deliberately presented as though knocked from the neck by some blast, and the biological diagram-like side grins out in the form of a skull, a striking memento mori. The life cycle is thus potently contained within Hirst's work.

In a sense, Wretched War shows the passing of an age of self-professed reason. Where the religious statuary of England was once destroyed during the Reformation and then by the Puritans, where we live now in a largely secular, largely godless age, science and medicine have become cults, beliefs, in their own rights. The fact that this educational representation of a pregnant woman has apparently been destroyed, the victim, one presumes, of the titular war, reveals a tension between science, or reason, and the passions of war. And the pregnancy itself is the product of similar passions, and also of biology, of science of reason. In an interview, Hirst himself discussed these strange conflations, of human emotion and behaviour reduced to science through everyday analysis:

'My friend Ant said a brilliant thing to me, what was it? When he was talking about why guys want to sleep around, he said, 'You're fulfilling your biological function' or something like that. It is just an in-built biological function. That is the sort of thing we do today: we go from the emotional to the scientific in one great step' (Hirst, quoted in Damien Hirst, exh. cat., Naples, 2004, p. 241).

Likewise, Wretched War appears to be the result of the collision between the emotional and the scientific: life has been reduced to scientific terms, and these scientific terms have been dismissed as too restrictive.

The deliberate appearance of Wretched War as a relic from a conflict, scarred and battered, also reflects Hirst's interest in both beauty and in the morbid. Even the cutaway section is explicit enough to render some people squeamish. Meanwhile, the skull and the mock-destruction speak openly of death. 'I suppose I am a bit twisted and I do enjoy the horror a little too much,' Hirst has confessed. 'Maybe it's that you wouldn't catch me looking away from a road accident. I like the things that destroy beauty as much as the beauty itself, sometimes more' (D. Hirst, The Death of God. Towards a Better Understanding of a Life Without God Aboard the Ship of Fools, exh. cat., Mexico City, 2006, p. 8).

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