Among the first works in Damien Hirst’s exhibition at Tate Modern is With Dead Head: a photograph of the young artist grinning beside a severed head on a mortuary table. It is what we expect of Hirst: a gleeful fascination with the grisly facts of death. This talk asks what kind of pleasures are courted by Hirst’s early works with dead animals, medical paraphernalia and such grim images of human mortality and whether those pleasures (gothic, prurient, sublime and verging on disgust) are sustainable across a body of work most renowned for its shock value.
Is UK editor of Cabinet magazine and tutor in the Critical Writing in Art & Design programme at the Royal College of Art. He is editor of Ruins (2011) and author of Sanctuary (2011). His book Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives (2009), published in the US as The Hypochondriacs (2010), was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize. His first book, In the Dark Room (2005), won the Irish Book Award for non-fiction. A collection of his essays, Culture and Curiosity, will be published in 2012. Dillon writes regularly for Artforum, Frieze, Art Review, the Guardian, the London Review of Books, and the Wire, and is currently at work on Blown All to Nothing, the story of an explosion at a gunpowder works in Kent in 1916.