Pushing Boundaries

The winner of the Damien Hirst competition has been announced. I did not win, and seeing the piece that did, I gather that the judges were looking for something quite different from what I offered. Which I can’t say is a surprise, as the criteria were quite vague!

The winning entry has got me thinking, though. Al-Saadi’s statement talks about pushing boundaries, yet her Snail Print Factory doesn’t seem to do that (beyond perhaps being quite a departure from the rest of her work). Hirst had already set a precedent for this sort of thing with A Thousand Years; it seems to me that Al-Saadi has re-created the concept with different materials.

Is that a bad thing? Does Al-Saadi really need to push boundaries like Hirst did?

I’m not saying boundaries should never be pushed – goodness knows my own work ethos is very concerned with questioning and bridging boundaries. But I come from the standpoint that any boundary is erected for a reason. When the reasons and/or consequences are awful the boundaries often do need to be broken down – but sometimes boundaries do good work and should be maintained. Pushing boundaries just for the sake of it strikes me as shallow.

And the thing I find about Hirst’s work is that a lot of it makes a splash in the way it questions boundaries, and this tends to get hyped up in a way I find off-putting. Indeed, I was disinterested in the Hirst exhibition for the first 3 months it was here; it wasn’t until I read something about him exploring aesthetics of science that I wanted to see it. That’s the thing: he does actually explore some themes I’m very interested in. But I had to get past the hype before I could engage that.

Al-Saadi’s piece, on the other hand, comments on the same sorts of themes without the sensationalist hype. I could get at its thematic intentions directly in a way that I couldn’t with Hirst, immediately finding something poetic about slime trails captured as a record of life.

That said, Al-Saadi’s piece illustrates something about life without really addressing death. Whereas in Hirst’s piece, I get the sense that he is confronting the very idea of people (at least of the culture targeted as his audience) finding death on display to be shocking. It makes sense that he would examine this social boundary by drawing attention to the shock inherent within it. But this doesn’t really apply to Al-Saadi.