Artists' knowledge

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Artists' knowledge and their use of materials have determined the outcome of their practice. Artists use certain materials in their work to express their knowledge of the events, places, people or things that have inspired them to create a particular artwork based on. Such examples are artists Maurizio Cattelan and Damien Hirst. I will be exploring two art works from both artists, and their use of materials and their knowledge and how they have determined the outcome of both their practices.

Artists' knowledge and use of materials are inspired by things they are interested in. These are contributing factors to the artists' practices. Maurizio Cattelan, an Italian artist who is best known for his satirical and controversial installations is an example of this. Cattelan works with taxidermy, and he is renowned for his work compromising of stuffed animals. When he had first started using stuffed animals in his artwork, he was not interested in “the morbid relationships that seem to tie people to animals” and he claims that his animals were “intended to be characters, images and things”, he told The Independent. “But the more I work with animals, the more perverse the relationship between animals and humans beings seem to be. People seem really intrigued, disturbed and yet charmed by my animals.” His artwork Novecento (1997), which is a hanging stuffed horse, was inspired by Cattelan's profound knowledge and interest in Italian history during the 20th century. Novecento, which translates to Twentieth Century, refers to Bernardo Bertolucci's 1976 film of the same name. The film depicts the opposing forces of fascism as well as communism in Italy during the 20th century. The dead horse is intended to “express a sense of blocked energy”. A horse is usually associated with the means of transportation and mobility, and the use of it in this artwork is portraying it as being immobile. Cattelan's work is a tribute to the end of the great revolutionary impulses that were prominent characteristics of the 20th century. Cattelan's' artwork Bidibidobidiboo (1996) compromises of a little taxidermised dead squirrel that appears to have committed suicide with a gun at a kitchen table. Cattelan wants the audience to search for a world within, as he uses the taxidermised squirrel to explore and exaggerate the fragility of life. Bidibidobidiboo balances child like innocence and humour with violence and death. Cattelan's works subtly criticize the dominant structures of cultural production, and question the politics and media, hierarchies and class systems that characterize contemporary life. His work has also provoked and challenged the limits of contemporary value systems through its use of irony and dark humour.

British installation artist Damien Hirst, who is reputed to be the world's richest artist, is another example of how artists' use of materials and knowledge determine their outcome of their practice. Damien Hirst's works have a central theme that is death. Other themes he explores along with death are the uncertainties of human experience: love, life, loyalty and betrayal. His work challenges the boundaries between art, science and popular culture. He is recognized for a series of work that he did, in which he used dead animals, some of which are dissected, and put them in formaldehyde. His artwork in that collection, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) consists of a shark preserved in formaldehyde in a cabinet. Hirst is trying to portray the shark as a simultaneously life and death incarnate in a way you will not quite understand until you see it- suspended and silent in its ‘tank'. Hirst's work aims to give an urge to live a demonic, death like form. The use of the shark in this artwork deliver the message Hirst is trying to tell us; that life's experiences are uncertain. His sculpture, For the Love of God (2007) is made up of a platinum cast of a human skull encrusted with around 8601 diamonds, and a pear shaped diamond located in its forehead. This artwork cost £14 million pounds to produce. Hirst bought the human skull from a shop in Islington, and is believed to be that of a European who lived in the 18th century. The work's title was supposedly inspired by Hirst's mother, who once asked him “For the love of God, what are you going to do next?” The artwork was influenced by Mexican skulls encrusted in turquoise, and is without doubt about death. The artwork is supposed to symbolize the transience of human existence, as well as to represent death as something more than relentless, describes Rudi Fuchs, a well-known art historian. Hirst himself says that his artwork is a celebration against death. The use of the flawless diamonds has helped him achieve that, as they add a positive touch to the preserved human skull. Damien Hirst's interest and knowledge in death have determined the outcome of his practice, and the use of dead preserved animals, and a preserved human skull show this. Hirst explores death and the way that we react to it in his many artworks.

Both Maurizio Cattelan and Damien Hirst use materials that reflect their knowledge and understanding of certain issues to create their renowned artworks. Through the use of Cattelan's stuffed animals, and Hirst's preserved animals and a human skull, the viewers of their work have a better understanding of how their knowledge and use of materials have determined the outcome of their practice.

Maurizio Cattelan, Novecento 1997, Installation at the 16th Biennale of Sydney 2008 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. Taxidermized life size horse, metal frame leather slings and rope.

Maurizio Cattelan. Bidibidobidiboo, 1996. Palazzo Grassi, Venezia. Taxidermized squirrel, ceramic, formica, wood, paint, steel, life size squirrel.

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991. Tiger shark, glass, steel, 5% formaldehyde solution. 213 x 518 x 213 cm.

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007. Platinum, life size human skull, diamond, human teeth. White Cube Gallery, London