Damien Hirst, Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin and YBA movement

Following Tracey Emin’s exhibition at White Cube Gallery in London, “”s Irina Vernichenko offers an interview with Curator A. Danilova about the 1990’s Young British Artist (YBA) movement.

We talk about the YBAs with Alexandra Danilova, the Head of Modern and Contemporary Art at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum after Tracey Emins’s exhibition at White Cube Gallery. The exhibition “Fortnight of Tears” (February-April 2019) showed a collection of Tracey Emin’s bitter emotions and her “IRL” (in real life) stories, converted into art.

Tracey Emin, from the exhibition “Fortnight of Tears”, image

Irina Vernichenko: The art of the YBA movement of the 1990s was mostly about personal subjects. What themes resonate with current times? Which art piece and artist do you personally like?

Alexandra Danilova: I think that the Young British Artists movement was an attempt to tell artist’s personal stories as part of general history and history as their own personal story; this was a situation of a very personal statement. Whether it is Tracey Emin, who shows her diaries, or Marc Quinn, who does scary and frightening self-portraits, variations of selfies, funeral masks,  or his latex skins, etc. I have my favorite artwork, it is Mat Collishaw’s “Narcissus”;  a small photo, but it combines a multitude of different codes, different notions, stereotypes of modern society and a play with ancient tradition.  It is Mat Collishaw’s self-portrait, in which he appears as a homeless person lying in a puddle in a backyard in London and looking at his reflection.

Mat Collishaw, “Narcissus”, image courtesy of the artist

Irina: You said, the self-portrait is a combination of different codes and notions. What motif brings together art works of very different artists, that were part of YBA movement? Was it punk or melancholy?

The punk motif has been the core motif of British youth culture since the 1970s, and nowhere else could punk have such a resonance. We understand that Britain is a country with very strong traditions, and youth culture is always one that challenges traditions; it is harsh and rebellious, and in this sense, the Young British Artists were not an exception. What they did was to refuse traditional “ reading“ of art, for example, when Mat Collishaw exposed his “Bullet Hole” stretched on 15 light boxes at the first “Freeze” exhibition, it is a challenge. When Damien Hirst makes his “A Thousand Years”, filling the aquarium with flies, it is punk.

Melancholy is also present, for the 80s and 90s generation there was a feeling of a tragic moment, when it is unclear what tomorrow brings.

Irina: How does Damien Hirst fit in the narrative?

Alexandra: I have been working in a museum all my life and at one moment you are surprised to find out, and it will sound like a paradox, art that will be valued, that will remain, is not art that speaks the language of modernity, but art that addresses the ontological problems and tries to solve these problems, not so much as describing them, but solving them at a new level.

The works of Damien Hirst are not about fashion. True, they have jokes about designing, and new myth-making, about our weaknesses to all kinds of sensations and discoveries, and the more bizarre these are, the more they will resonate. However, his oeuvre can be reduced to the subject of life and death which is his overarching theme.  It doesn’t matter what Damien Hirst has worked on in his life, it’s about life and death; and generally it’s very difficult to imagine a person indifferent to that problem.  These are basic topics of morality and immorality, of life and death, of past and present.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *