Loss of Memory, 1991 - 1992



Loss of Memory
1991 - 1992
920 x 1840 x 1070 mm 36.2 x 72.4 x 42.1 in
Glass, steel, silicone rubber, formaldehyde containers, formaldehyde solution, water, syringes, gas mask, gloves and goggles
Image: Photographed by Stephen White © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012


Solo Exhibition - 2004
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Naples, Italy


‘Loss of Memory’ is an early vitrine piece in which Hirst placed ten industrial containers of formaldehyde solution inside a steel and glass box. The work followed Hirst’s inclusion of the seminal vitrine, ‘The Acquired Inability to Escape’ (1991) at his first exhibition in a public gallery, ‘Internal Affairs’ (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1991). It forms part of the same series as the earlier vitrine, a collection of works of diverse mediums titled ‘Internal Affairs’. Hirst stated of ‘Internal Affairs’: “I think […] it’s clumsy because that whole idea of the self being objective and looking into self is clumsy. The tools that you really need or the keys aren’t there but you can sometimes take a screw out with a knife.”[1]

The glass boxes repeatedly employed by the artist in the vitrine and ‘Natural History’ works act to define the artwork’s space, whilst simultaneously commenting on the “fragility of existence”.[2] Hirst has described the glass of the vitrine walls as “something dangerous and something to keep you away” – a material that you can see through despite its solidity.[3] As with ‘The Acquired Inability to Escape’, ‘Loss of Memory’ alludes to “the violence of inanimate objects”: the human form is absent but evoked by the inclusion of the syringe, gloves and goggles (which also reference Hirst’s studio practise). The incorporation of the tanks of formaldehyde, normally used to preserve Hirst’s “zoo of dead animals”, relates to the artist’s statement that the solution is used to “communicate an idea”, not to conserve. Hirst notes that, for him, part of the aesthetic power of the ‘Natural History’ works results from the visual impact of the liquid itself. He has also described the conceptual foundation of incorporating clear liquids into his works and, by extension, explains the work’s title: “Water has always had something to do with memory for me. The idea of losing memory, like the glass of water in the Michael Craig-Martin sculpture [‘An Oak Tree’ (1973)] or an empty tank.”[4]

In 2004, ‘Loss of Memory’ was included in Hirst’s first retrospective exhibition, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

[1] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Damien Hirst & Sophie Calle’, ‘Internal Affairs’ (Jay Jopling/ICA, 1991), unpag.

[2] 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), 33

[3] 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), 70

[4] ibid., 123