An escape from reality, to a world of make-believe

| by Victor Cherubim

( April 11, 2012, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) We are reminded time and again in the western media, that what matters in Sri Lanka today, is the gripping accounts of a country tethering out of control of government; in the cost of living spiral, unemployment, exchange rates and petrol prices out of sync, a feeling of insecurity, instability and the country’s survival in doubt, as if there was no tomorrow.
The exposition of the processes of life
 and death, the ironies, falsehoods,
the justice and injustices, are all man’s
way to negotiate life. The world we see
 is the world “as is,” the real world.
We are further informed by critics and commentators of threats to freedom of assembly, association, expression, and that vulnerable people are being abducted in white vans daily, with law and order being abandoned.
Simultaneously, but strangely, we see so called abducted persons attending meetings, surrendering themselves willingly or unwillingly to law enforcement and people so doing their best to cope with the twists and turns of living, with the government going about its business with a degree of cautious optimism.
It seems that we are either living in make-belief, or living in fear.
If we are living in “fear, betrayal, rape, massacre, sadistic torture, fanaticism, feuds, persecution, corruption, hypocrisy, voodoo superstition,” and/or “you name it”, we would all be devoid of any purpose or action, with everything grinding to a halt. We hear of strikes, we hear of workers resolving their grievances and returning to work. We hear of a coping mechanism, driving development projects, after an enduring period of a protracted war. Life has to be lived. So is there a so called “paranoia”?
I visited the one man show: Damien Hirst, “Exhibition of Conceptual Art,” (in my understanding) at the Tate Modern Gallery recently. “Con Art,” as it is sometimes referred to, is much publicised and patronised.
Damien Hirst, is “the contemporary forty seven year old British painter, sculptor, art-form exhibitionist, and entrepreneur”, who is currently the talk of the town in London and probably in Europe and U.S.A. He is attracting many thousands from all over Europe to his exhibition of works at the Tate Modern Gallery, since 4 April and running until 9 September 2012. It seems his work has touched a nerve in the feelings of both the young and the old. He seems to reflect reality of the world, not only in art form, but in life in the early 21st century.
The thing that struck me was that the Tate Modern is housed in an old Bankside Power Station, exceptionally tall and with a spacious warehouse structure, now completely redesigned by modern architects, Herzog & de Meuron, sited on the opposite side of the float bridge across the Thames, from St. Pauls Cathedral, in the City. It happens to be the “up and coming” gallery, with essential strands of artistic practice and for artists embracing new technologies, to display their works in film, video, photo and performance. It is where young and old meet, to enter a reflection of their own values, the subtle changes and the impermanence of life.
Damien Hurst came into public attention some twenty odd years ago, but today his work is in vogue. He seems to have conceived a philosophy which is nicely blending with the ebb and the flow of the tide of feeling as well on the river, the flotsam and jetsam of uncertainty prevailing among society.
There is a feeling of futility in his creation of “A Thousand Years: 1990.” It is the first of Hirst’s works in which are an arrangement of components enclosed within a glass vitrine within its confines a life cycle is played out. Maggots hatch inside a minimal white box develop into flies, then feed on an uncovered cows head lying on the floor, circle around the enclosed glass space, and end on an insect o-captor, others survive and continue the cycle. Hirst creates a literal enactment of birth, death and decay – the death of organic nature.”
As I wandered through his paintings, the canvass framed Coloured Spots, the myriad of Glass cupboards of his medicine, pill and surgical instrument cabinets, all meticulously arranged. But I found it difficult to see a pattern other than noting some of the familiar medical prescriptions, “senakot syrup, duphalac, diamox, distelgesic co-proxomol, even milk of magnesia, besides also the known remedies for cough, ventrolin, Sudafed, calpol and other linctus.”
I witnessed the entrails of his cows, his sheep and noted the jaws of the shark, besides his “humidised” garden room with 200 varieties of butterflies, from larvae to butterflies, of various sizes, shapes and colour. Colour and space are dominant features in all Damien’s art. The butterflies are replenished by a firm of contractors, as they decay and die.
Two things were striking in this exhibition of “con art.”
Damien Hirst wanted to use everyday items to connect with his viewers. Having seen “Jaws” on the screen, he tries to portray the shark “pickled” in formaldehyde inside a massive glass “see –thru” case as a formidable creature under his control, a childlike curiosity. It appears he also had a fetish for medicines and cures. Playing with his butterflies is his expensive hobby, so was his exhibition of the life-size “Human Skull,” studded with 8601 high quality diamonds valued at over US$ 100 million, a boy’s dream of luxury, as well as an investment and store of value in current times.
Damien tries to replicate the life of his time, a contemporary scenario of life, decay and death. In this sense his ideas reflect changes in contemporary life of ordinary persons, whether they are in Sri Lanka or elsewhere; the feeling of frustration at life’s turbulence; the futility of the control mechanism, the acceptance of reality in make belief, as an expression of sanity in a world of uncertainty. It is nothing new to us in Sri Lanka, as the precepts and teachings of Buddhism embody the impermanence of life.
The exposition of the processes of life and death, the ironies, falsehoods, the justice and injustices, are all man’s way to negotiate life. The world we see is the world “as is,” the real world.
( The writer is a freelance journalist. He can be reached at


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.