The centerpiece of Damien Hirst's 2003 exhibition in London, Romance in the Age of Uncertainty was a group of twelve stainless steel and glass cabinets installed like twelve side altars in a vast room. Hirst purposefully created the ensemble to resemble a church. (Accordingly, the room also featured sculptures located in the characteristic locations of a nave, side aisles and a high altar.) Each cabinet was powder-coated in black paint, titled with the name of one of the twelve apostles and stocked full of a vast array of objects, such as bell jars, crucibles, flasks, scissors, knives, tissues, purses, skulls, rosaries, crucifixes, plasma bags, mounds of earth, laboratory equipment and bandages. Additionally, most of the objects inside were "soaked in gore," (Richard Cork, "Flesh and Blood," New Statesman, September 22, 2003) to the extent that blood was also "smeared, dripped, and spattered [all] over the vitrines and often spill[ed] down on to the walls and floor." Notably, flanking the cabinets on the ground in front of each of them were twelve bull's heads in precision-engineered glass and steel cases. The objects had been carefully selected by Hirst (after much historical research) and the blood was included to refer to the "gruesome means by which the followers of Christ met their death by bludgeon, spear, axe, stone, saw, noose and pliers," (Richard Dorment, "Damien Bares His Soul," The Daily Telegraph (London), October 9, 2003) among other methods. Accordingly, Saint Bartholomew's cabinet featured "a bloody basin and a cruel, forceps-like instrument" (Ibid.), and was sandblasted on the outside, for he was flayed alive; and Saint Peter's cabinet was filled with a collection of variously overturned objects, as he was famously crucified upside-down.
Judas Iscariot, the cabinet dedicated to Judas, is undeniably the most complex of the group, reflecting the complexity of his relationship with Christ. The noose laid on its top refers to Matthew 27:3-10's account of Judas's death, which explains that Judas hanged himself (from the Judas tree, after his repentance and return of the silver-- subsequent to seeing Jesus condemned to death). The plastic tubing that rests in a pool of (allegedly congealed deer's) blood on the ground refers to Acts's account (1:18), which, in contrast, ascribes Judas's death not to hanging, but to a horrific kind of explosion. As the account goes, Judas bought a field with the reward of his treachery; and falling headlong there he burst open in the middle and his bowels gushed out. Additionally, within the case there is a ten-pound note and a purse, both of which allude to Judas's reward for betraying Jesus.
Such works as Judas show Hirst's previous "relentless preoccupation with suffering and destruction" (Ibid.) which develop into a much deeper and complex exploration of Christianity itself. Additionally, according to Richard Dorment, these works "are Hirst telling us about the origins of his dark imagination. Baudelaire said that genius was 'childhood recovered at will,' and Hirst is trying to recreate through art the frisson of horror such stories have for all children."
Yet more broadly, in 2003, Judas marked Hirst's return to eminence, an eminence he has maintained and built upon ever since. According to Charlotte Mullins: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was Damien. He pickled sharks and sheep, let flies feast on rotting cows' heads and plastered butterflies to canvases. He posed beside corpses in the morgue and named paintings after A-class drugs. He filled cabinets with pills and fags and bottles of brains, sliced pigs in half and generally created art that pointed to one thing-- we were all going to die, no matter how much we wanted to live forever. He took the fears of the chemical generation-- sterility, isolation, banality, anonymous drug-induced death-- and made them palpable."