Belonging to the artist’s seminal series of Medicine Cabinets, Untitled AAAAAAAAA, 1992, is an early work announcing Damien Hirst’s scientific wonder. Within the intimate, personal space of the cabinet the sparkling bottles and bright, peppy packages together produce a contemplative rhythm: in the world of Hirst’s apothecary, aesthetics is the governing force used to induce an almost spiritual sense of calm. For the artist, medicine and art are fundamentally intertwined: ‘I cannot understand,’ he has said, ‘why some people believe completely in medicine and not in art, without questioning either’ (D. Hirst quoted in conversation with S. Calle, in J. Jopling, Damien Hirst, exh. cat., Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 1991, n. p.). First developed for his thesis presentation at Goldsmith’s College of Art in London in 1989, the Medicine Cabinets directly informed Hirst’s embryonic practice, influencing works such as The Pharmacy, his site-specific installation created contemporaneously to Untitled AAAAAAAAA, and later the notorious formaldehyde-filled vitrines. In the Medicine Cabinets the many themes that would prove central to his practice – questions concerning mortality, the curative powers of art, and a striking formalism, among others – percolated and burst forth.
Purposefully open-ended, the Medicine Cabinets can be read as an indictment of power structures, metaphors for the human body, or as chromatic abstractions relying upon everyday materials. Indeed, their visuals evoke the repetition of Gerhard Richter’s Colour Charts; the Medicine Cabinets play at a gridded, neo-minimalism. Yet by using figurative language, Hirst firmly fixes Untitled AAAAAAAAA in the real. The sculpture is a monument to a way of being. Describing his pharmaceutical wunderkammer, he said, ‘I've always seen medicine cabinets as bodies, but also like a cityscape or civilization with some sort of hierarchy within it. It's also like a contemporary museum of the Middle Ages. In 100 years’ time this will look like an old apothecary. A museum of something that's around today’ (D. Hirst, I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, London, 2006, p. 229). Certainly, Untitled AAAAAAAAA resembles a shrine, only instead of religious figurines and totems, the cabinet worships at the altar of modern medicine. Hirst’s cabinet alludes to a widespread belief system in which the pill symbolises a new sacrament. His elegant and continuous lines of Untitled AAAAAAAAA bring a sense of order to an otherwise undisciplined and chaotic world. The works asks for a faith that art can be healing and generative.