Damien Hirst’s artwork, Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding, was created in 1991. It consists of a cabinet containing rows of fish that are individually cased in formaldehyde. The artwork measures more than 84 feet by 32 feet and is based on two earlier Hirst sculptures created in the same year.
Hirst’s innovative contributions to contemporary art practice over twenty-plus years are undeniable. The preservation technique used in this piece is significant as it not only kills but also isolates the individual elements, creating a stark contrast between life and death. The title suggests an intention to understand something deeper about these isolated elements within their new environment.
The artwork represents a comment on mass production and repetition which was prevalent during Hirst’s early career. Beyond that, it also raises questions about death and beauty: can preserved objects be beautiful? Isolated Elements Swimming In The Same Direction For The Purposes Of Understanding highlights how preservations such as taxidermy or formaldehyde are often used by artists to present radical aesthetic experiences. As one of the most influential figures in contemporary art today, Damien Hirst has successfully contributed to our understanding and perception of modern art through his unique perspectives on life, death and preservation techniques.