Damien Hirst, Lapdancer (2006)

If needing just one word to sum up Damien Hirst at Tate Modern, you might resort to some made up slang invented for a work of dystopian fiction.

The violence of his killed and pickled animals is horrorshow, as is the vitrine pictured. Real horrorshow, the ultimate accolade for gang member Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

Lapdancer packages up a world of medical pain in four glass shelves of surgical tools. There are saws and knives you want to hope you never encounter outside the gallery.

But as the title makes clear, there is an erotic attraction with the apparatus of death. Or perhaps it is the death drive which in turn draws men to lap dancing clubs.

Whatever the lure, one cannot but reflect that our own final days may feature some of these tools. En steely masse, they reflect the power in a pair of surgeon’s hands.

They also reflect the apparatus of medical knowledge. By shipping a room full of surgical tools into a gallery, Hirst throws the authority of science into question .

Like the earlier work Pharmacy, Lapdancer allows for art historians to scrub up and begin to operate on the assumptions of modern science.

That’s not to say that if you break a leg, you should go to a gallery for treatment. But there is a creeping sense in which medicine serves its own ends with proliferating diagnoses.

But this piece also reminds us that medicine and art have long been close. The mastery of figuration could not have been achieved without dabblings in anatomy.

Hirst himself spent some formative years drawing in the anatomy department of Leeds Uni. And he is not the first artist to bring the operating theatre into the gallery.

One has to ask though, is Lapdancer clinical enough? Those serrated blades will give you chills. In front of this work itself, your critical faculties all desert you. Mine did. It was horrorshow.

Damien Hirst runs at Tate Modern until September 9. See gallery website for more details. And see this Brian Dillon review for a great analysis of the numb shock value present in his work.

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