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Friday, 26 July 2013

Damien Hirst's 'Verity'

Last week I visited Ilfracombe in North Devon, a quaint Victorian town on the rocky North Devon coast, with several thousand souls.  I spent the first six months of my life here, so feel a vested interest, and affectionate attachment to the place. Damien Hirst's statue "Verity" stands at the end of the harbour quay, inviting study and reflection.
Controversy abounds as to the artistic value of the statue. Some say it is 'disvalue': an ugly and meaningless piece of ConArt, destined for the scrap heap. One Facebook entry, ("Manyani") says (Oct 12 2012):

"I think the problem is that Hirst's recent work lacks any soul. It is about as emotionally engaging as as a souvenir knick knack in a tourist trap. Completely dead. It would be interesting to see it turn green if it will and if I'm alive in 20 years to see whether it has become a much loved local focal point."

It "lacks soul"?  Yes, says Ruth Dudley Edwards, no thanks to the Tate lately 'promoting talentless self-publicists, and encouraging the proliferation of the ugly and the pointless.'  But, Hirst must have meant something by it, other than buy it!"

I'll attempt to give it soul, or reveal its soul.  Yes, it has turned a streaky chlorinated green - maybe oppressed by bored and jealous mermaids.  The artist said his inspiration for the statue came from three sources: the Statue of Liberty, Degas' "Little dancer," and the Scales of Justice, mounted over the Old Bailey. This gives us some clues: the New York symbol represents freedom from oppressive and arbitrary authority; the Little Dancer represents the effect on a girl of sexually abusive men, whilst the Scales speak of the natural human desire for justice to be satisfied.  Thus, we see Verity trampling over those books of Law (and Science?), which lie beneath her bronze feet - she feels oppressed by them.  Her face suggests she is a scarred victim of a malicious rapacious criminality - as was the Little Dancer.  Her pregnant despair cries out for help, for, although she shares the guilt of the abuser, she asks, perhaps, for pity, not condemnation, as she hides the scales of justice behind her back.

Verity means Truth (Lat. veritas),  Hirst speaks in an interview of using "universal triggers" to provide strands for his work, which he then brings together to produce a piece of art.

There are perhaps five attempted universals in 'Verity', starting from the base of the statue:
a. Rebellion  - the books on the pedestal represent authority, whether of Law or Science, or both.  'Verity' puts experience above all book learning, and is prepared to trample on all ancient notions of authority. Experts differ, opinions differ, and all knowledge in a post-modern world is uncertain.  There's no such thing as objective truth about the meaning of sex, only your truth - which may not be my truth - and vice versa. The woman must find her own meaning in gender relationships, not rely on others to interpret them for her.

b. Admission - the open womb represents a more honest statement about women's predicament. Some may prefer the term 'Exhibition', as compared to the traditional practice of privacy and confinement in time of pregnancy.  She wants 'pro-choice' freedom to have sexual experience without childbirth, all the while acknowledging she knows she is responsible, as a mother, to face up to the dilemma this occasions.

c.  Abstention - Verity has hidden the scales of justice behind her back.  That is, she asks viewers to abstain from judging her condition negatively, as if a damning verdict may justly be passed on her condition.

d.  Frustration - She has voluptuous lips, which speak maybe of insatiable sexual appetite. What chance has she of staying childless, when surrounded by men who find her sexually alluring, and feel seduced by her?

e. Contention - the sword speaks of woman's readiness to respond aggressively to men's (or others) criticism of her condition.  She will give as good as she gets. She knows that her sexuality gives her power over men, and she is prepared to use it to the full, if need be.

To make sex and gender so central to his statue suggests Hirst has drunk at the well of Sigmund Freud and, like his mentor, he makes no bones in not believing in God. There's your first mistake, Damien.

Anyway, let's analyse these supposed 'universals' a little closer, and give a biblical perspective to them.
1. Rebellion  - 'Your truth may not be my truth, and vice versa.' The woman must find her own meaning in gender relationships.' The Bible's remedy to the one-parent problem is a one man-one woman marriage for life - without attitude. "[As to wives, let their adorning] . . . be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." 1 Pet. 3: 3-4. Marriage will not work if the woman lacks a "meek and quiet spirit."  But, that's far too high a price to pay for many.

2. Admission -  'Verity wants 'pro-choice' freedom to be childless, while acknowledging she is responsible as a mother too.' The Bible's remedy for this dilemma, is to see childbearing as a wonderful privilege and duty, in spite of what the Enemy did in the Garden: "For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they [both parents] continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. 1 Tim 2: 13

3.  Abstention - Verity has hidden the scales of justice behind her back.  She asks viewers to abstain from judging her condition negatively,  Jesus (and the Bible) agree with her, when he said:"Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Matthew 7.   He [Jesus] said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." John 8.

4.  Frustration -  'What chance has she of men not feeling seduced by her?' The Bible's answer to this: to realise that unless she searches for sexual healing - and wholeness - she will always be vulnerable to abusive men, and to her own changing moods.  Our Verity has, perhaps, the spirit of Degas' little dancer - the abused child-prostitute - who will one day become, as described in Proverbs 9: 18 " A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing. For she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city, To call passengers who go right on their ways: Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: and as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell."

 5. Contention - She will give as good as she gets - she knows that aggressive sexuality gives her power over men, and she is prepared to use it. The Bible's remedy for this false feminism is to realise she needs the new birth, no, not physical, but the spiritual rebirth Jesus speaks of, to the Jewish rabbi, Nicodemus (John 3): "Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? 5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.. . . 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. . . . For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. "

When we take the remedy, healing immediately begins. Jesus' healing turns 'unwanted' natural life, into a life which God has planned, for your good and mine. As Jesus Christ said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." John 10: 10.