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Mental Escapology

2012

‘Loving in a World of Desire’ (1996). Image courtesy Jay Jopling/ White Cube © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

“My idea of a perfect art piece would be a perfect sphere in the centre of a room. You would come in and walk around it; it would just be there, floating without strings or wires.”[1]

In 1991, after seeing a ball floating on an air-jet at a funfair rifle-range, Hirst began work on a series which incorporated seemingly unsupported spheres. He  called the series ‘Mental Escapology’. The first work in the series was ‘I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now’ (1991), in which a ping-pong ball is held aloft by an air supply anchored on sheets of glass. Hirst included the piece in ‘Internal Affairs’, (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1991), his first solo show in a public gallery.

Significant to the conception of the series, was the challenging of Hirst’s understanding of the difference between painting and sculpture by his Goldsmiths tutors. According to his previous teaching, paintings belonged strictly on walls and sculptures on the floor. At Goldsmiths, however, he began to explore the possibility of creating works that could go on neither by using an air supply to levitate a sphere or ball mid-air. Maintaining, “It is great to look at a [Donald] Judd and it is great to look at [Dan] Flavin, but it is nothing like looking at a floating ball at a funfair,” the series is testament to Hirst’s interest in simple visual trickery.[2] He explains: ‘I’ll do a magic trick, and I want it to be fucking amazing. But I can’t resist showing you how to do it as well. It’s not one or the other. It’s the whole thing.”[3] As such, the works encapsulate “not a clever kind of magic, more like a fairground kind of magic”.[4] Included alongside pieces involving an air supply, such as ‘Loving in a World of Desire’ (1996), are works such as ‘And Still Pursuing Impossible Desires’ (1995) which uses mirrored glass to trick the viewer into thinking a beach ball is floating unsupported in the centre of a box.

The ‘Mental Escapology’ series includes some of Hirst’s most autobiographical works. The floating spheres, incorporated into his visual language in a similar manner to the butterfly, can arguably be considered  self-portraits, or as representations of his career. Equally, however, he reminds, they can also be, “just portraits of individuals”.[5]



[1] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst, ‘I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now’ (Booth-Clibborn Editions; Reduced edition, 2005), 75–79

[2] ibid., 160

[3] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 48

[4] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Like People, Like Flies: Damien Hirst Interviewed’, Mirta D’Argenzio, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy: Selected Works from 1989 – 2004’ (Electa Napoli, 2004), 160

[5] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Like People, Like Flies: Damien Hirst Interviewed’, Mirta D’Argenzio, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy: Selected Works from 1989 – 2004’ (Electa Napoli, 2004), 161