Damien Hirst is an artist of some renown. I saw him recently on TV, talking to Kirsty Walk, about his work, his motivations, his … what is it? What do they have? He was talking about himself, how he sees the world, what he thinks.
I'd never really rated him, mostly because his world and my world haven't exactly intersected in any meaningful way. Does art have to do that? Speak to you about you but in a different voice? All that bollocks about perspective, retrospective, irrespective. No idea. Literally. Or perhaps just ideas? 'Just' ideas, as if there's a value judgment attached to them?
Hirst pissed me off because he made money. That's stupid. I mean I don't have to love the Ferrari driver in order to see that the engine's pretty neat.
So yeah, I decided to go to London to see 'For the Love of God', a diamond encrusted skull. Essentially, I knew it was worth a lot of money, forty million, although I'm not sure whether that's pounds sterling or dollars, and I wanted to stare at forty million. I've never seen that sort of money, or thought I hadn't until I was standing outside Buck Palace, at which point it all became rather obvious to me. Forty fucking million, but probably still a drop in the ocean – apparently some geezers lost seventy million in cocaine off the south coast of Ireland yesterday. Forty million. Seventy Million. No-one owns that. I wondered if Hirst even had ownership over his own work. That would be odd. Right from the outset for it not to be his. Where does he stand in relation to it then? Who does it belong to? Mostly importantly, why did he make it?
London's a strange place, full and empty all at the same time. Everything's wide their, roads, arches, boys. Some of the buses are even concertinaed in the middle with big bits of bendy rubber. Juggernaut buses. And red, like you could miss them in the first place, but they stand out against the grey skies and blanched stone buildings. London's got a certain scale to it. Perhaps it's designed to be imposing.
We went to Buck Palace in the rain, sort of unintentionally, we were just walking past. Lots of people, mainly Japanese I think, all pointing their cameras. The lack of security surprised me. Some podgy looking coppers lounging about against their van over the other side of the road. We don't scare too easily, or if we do we don't show it. How the hell did the Luftwaffe miss Buck Palace? It's kind of comforting to see Queen Vic, dourly rotund, sitting on her marble throne, legs too open really, huge heaving breasts. She wasn't exactly a pretty woman. Don't suppose she needed to be. The statues surrounding her. A woman with a lion holding a sickle and a sheaf of corn. A man with a hammer. I think he had a lion as well. Just fascinated by the hammer and sickle.
I couldn't remember. I knew I'd been to Buck Palace before, with my Dad, but it didn't look the same today, smaller, bigger, a different shape altogether. It wasn't until we crossed over to walk up The Mall and I glanced over my shoulder that I realised it was a question of perspective. We'd approached from the side, found ourselves at the corner, everything had been seen from where we stood. Looking back, in all senses of the word, I remembered that with Dad we'd walked down The Mall. Buck Palace sits at the bottom of it, presenting itself to the world with squat dignity.
And so to Trafalgar Square, along a wide path of flattened, red grit. A cream building ran down the side of the road. Nothing to say what it was or was was. London has a history. We got lost then. He tried to make me 'drift', but I don't drift, I sort of stomp about in mild, impatient confusion. I'm not a very relaxed person. 'Go with the flow' isn't my motto, probably because I'm not a dippy hippy. Dunno. Drifting is just an anathema to me. Things should be purposefully on purpose without a purpose. I can wrap them all up neat then, tie a big bow. Disordered stuff bothers me. I need to know where I'm going and how long it's going to take to get there. Flexibility makes me think of gymnasts. That Russian woman, K K, something archi or okov. Can't remember her name.
We found the gallery, found somewhere to have lunch. Sorted.
Expectation, what of it? I was just looking to stare at forty million. We laughed outside. I stroked his hairy belly as we stood in some spitting rain. I thought vaguely that it might be interesting to rob the place. The security guards looked kind of young and fresh faced. The guides looked like they wouldn't be able to find their way into or out of … well anything really. I show my age in my prejudices I expect, expectantly, expectorantly.
Two minutes, I knew we'd only get two minutes. Well, actually, I thought five, but the lady with the impossibly thick hair and Spanishy accent said two. The room was dark, absolutely black, in the centre, on a pedestal (of course), in a box, there it was … Not forty million, I didn't even see the forty million, instead a shining skull, lit by sword shafts. Instantly I was muted, deference, and a large emotional response – which I hadn't expected. There to see, observe, be part of the spectacular spectacle, not to be effected/affected – a philosopher will be along shortly to explain the affect, I've never got it but, there again, I don't 'get' a lot of shit.
People crowded to the front so I went round the back, the smooth run of the skull into the neck that wasn't there. The way the light bounced off 'the object' meant it became projected. Darkness in the room focused the image. And there it sat, all waiting to be watched. Admiration didn't even come into it. I could've cried. Something stole my cynical tongue clicking and just made me want to react, purely physically and with a lot of adjectives.
At the front, thinking maybe I could look inside it, but it was all so on the outside, everything, the diamonds, the box, the people staring in, history folded back on itself, except for those teeth, set into subtle cement, not quite white, definitely not shining. Jack Nicholson don't come here.
In the pictures I'd seen the 'face' seemed to be smiling, a morbid grin, victorious in a way, don't ask me what way, victory is always sort of hollow, a bit like a skull I guess. I looked up his nose, and he was a he, I couldn't see woman in him at all. I looked up his nose and it was encrusted with diamonds. Inside my nose it's fleshy and pulpy and not very valuable. It's valuable to me. When I was thirteen I had to have an operation. Polyps. They banged me out with general anaesthetic and I woke up to find lint packed up both nostrils and trailing into my mouth. After two days they took this out. I bled, everywhere, fresh spurts of bright red blood. I screamed. I don't have diamonds up my nose.
The dead, yes, they're never quiet, even those that didn't have that much to say in life. I wondered whether it was a real skull under all those diamonds. I rather suspect it was. Fakery didn't seem to be the exercise here.
Diamonds, for engagement, for long marriage, dug out of the ground by miners paid a pittance, stolen and sold. Can't help but think of the Kohinoor. There was a big diamond on the forehead of the skull, right where the third eye might be, if it exists – perhaps it does, perhaps it doesn't, but the diamond's definitely there, like an egg, glinting off in all directions.
I'm writing this and I'm biting my nails, because I'm trying to get into words something that's purely visual. How can I say what I saw. There was this and then there was this and then I felt like this and then I made my body do this and then the woman called us out and it was light again and the skull was behind me, with its forty million, that wasn't forty million anymore, and i was walking down a corridor and almost forgot to go into the gallery and i couldn't speak, because everything had got stuck in my head, like a giant marble, thinking about this thing that i'd seen but that i couldn't look at as if it was a thing that you can say 'it's this thing' and make it into a thing that's a thing that you can have in your thing wardrobe to pull out like a new dress at a party. 'Oh, I saw this thing, the new Hirst thing, and it was thing blah thing blah thing and I really thought thing blah thing blah thing'.
I saw the Hirst skull and it blew me away and I can't explain it. I took some pictures when I was in London. They bear no relation to anything. There isn't a narrative. Life's not some big fucking story.
Oh yeah, I nearly forget the most important part. It's called 'For the Love of God'. I didn't get it til afterwards, when I heard it. That's what people SAY, for the love of God. That's what people mean.