I’m fascinated by the limits to which some artists push the envelope. Not only the message or appearance of their works, but also the possibilities for finding new extremes to use as the medium itself. A contemporary of Damien Hirst and one the legendary YBAs of the early 90s, the work of British sculptor Marc Quinn makes Hirst look like nothing more than a really enthusiastic taxidermist.
Most recently getting media and art-world buzz for his solid gold sculpture of Kate Moss in a revealingly contorted (and sublimely absurd) yoga pose, Quinn has long-since gone to an extreme of using his physical body as material that would make Marco Evarissti proud. Quinn’s famed 1991 work “Self” is a frozen sculpture of his own head, made from 4.5 litres of his won blood which was slowly taken from his body over a 5-month period. Now that, calling a spade a spade, is really fucking hardcore.
Sure, I get that there’s an immediate, visceral reaction to something made from human blood. The sculpture itself, though well done, is fairly unremarkable except for the material it’s made of. But that’s precisely the point: the brilliance of the statement is in heightening the meaning of our desire to catalogue and honour and document our physical selves from clay and marble to our very own blood. A sculpture from our own DNA.
Then the over-reactions begin: it would be easy to freak out, be grossed out, and call Quinn crazy. But why? This is a study of how the medium of a work of art can not only equal the statement of the work itself, but completely eclipse it. And why should we be so repulsed by something that flows so critically and intimately inside each of our bodies anyway? Similar to the use of shit or piss in art (though I would defend it as equally meaningful as a statement if done by an artist of this calibre) the use of bodily fluids as an artistic medium usually raises similar ire. The difference for me is that those are things our bodies regularly gets rid of. Aside from menstruation, our bodies never intentionally discrete our own blood (and even then I’d argue there’s a difference between the monthly cycle of menstruation and the over-riding vitality of our regular blood). Blood is vital and universal and holds our entire health within it. Blood is as natural as tears, yet still people can have such abhorrent reactions to seeing it.
Kept in a refrigerated case where it must be constantly maintained at -12˚ Celsisus, “Self” was sold to an anonymous U.S. collector in 2005 for £1.5 million. Not a bad profit for its first owner – global advertising legend, renowned art patron/gallery owner and husband of Nigella Lawson, Charles Saatchi, who reportedly first bought “Self” in 1991 for “only” £13,000. That’s an 8666% return on investment. Not too shabby. Not that he does it for the money… I’m just sayin’.
Since 1991, Quinn has cast a new version of “Self” every five years. That means that there are 3 out there and one more (hopefully) on the way in the near future. And, with any lucky, many, many more to come… long live the art, and blood, of Mr. Marc Quinn.