Damien Hirst

Trinity - Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology


Not on display

Damien Hirst born 1965
Glass, fibreboard, wood, steel and plastic
Object (left vitrine, displayed not including objects): 2135 × 1530 × 472 mm
object (central vitrine, displayed not including objects): 2745 × 1835 × 472 mm
object (right vitrine, displayed, not including objects): 2135 × 1530 × 472 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008


Trinity – Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology is a wall-mounted sculptural installation composed of three large glass fronted cabinets displayed in triptych formation, with the large central cabinet flanked by two equal sized smaller cabinets. Custom-made for the artist from white formica-covered MDF with identical steel fittings (handles and locks), the cabinets contain medical demonstration models – made of plastic, leather and wood – arranged on white shelves. The order in which the objects are arranged is aesthetic, rather than following any kind of logical or discursive rationale. Many items are repeated in two or all of the cabinets, or presented in several versions of the same thing. These include: enlarged eyeballs; foetuses in various stages of development both in and out of wombs; cross-sections of male and female reproductive organs; cross-sections of the skin with giant hair follicles; skulls – both adult and infant; enlarged teeth; and torsos with their skin removed to show the body’s internal organs and half the head sliced open to reveal the skull and part of the brain – two of these are brown skinned and stand side by side, evoking twins (the subject of ongoing fascination for Hirst). The cabinets also contain an enlarged brain; an enlarged heart; a pelvis and full set of vertebrae (painted various shades of green); an infant’s spine; hand, arm, leg and foot bones; an enlarged bisected kidney; a gynaecological model of a newborn infant; and a model of a woman’s lower torso, genitals and upper thighs. The largest object is a torso and head sliced horizontally into fifteen parts and hinged on a vertical stand so that they can be viewed separately.

Hirst’s earliest use of the vocabulary of medicine for making art dates to the cabinets filled with pharmaceutical packaging that he created between 1989 and 1992, culminating in the room-sized installation Pharmacy 1992 (T07187). In a group of works entitled The Lovers 1991 (reproduced Damien Hirst, pp.118–19) he presented real specimens (internal organs taken from cows) in formaldehyde solution in jars lined up in rows on formica-covered cabinet shelves, the precursors to such works utilising whole and bisected animal carcasses as Mother and Child Divided 1993 (T12751) and Away from the Flock 1994 (AR00499). The titles of these works herald the references to Christian iconography that have become central to Hirst’s artistic language, which equates medical science with religion and art. He first used a medical model as the basis for sculpture in 1999–2000, when he massively enlarged a semi-skinned and eviscerated male head and torso and cast it in painted bronze. Entitled Hymn (reproduced Damien Hirst p.217), this sculpture, like AR00500, embodies Hirst’s equation of medical science with Christianity – both of which he views as belief systems which promise, but fail to deliver, any real redemption for our common fate – death. Trinity – Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology presents three types of medical science – the study of drugs, the functioning of the body and the study of disease – as metaphors for the holy trinity of the Christian church which unites the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one. The format of the triptych is common in church altar-pieces, although they do not usually depict the actual trinity. In the same way, Hirst’s Trinity is a metaphorical association of image with idea, rather than actual illustration. In 2005 he commented:

I just can’t help thinking that [medical] science is the new religion for many people ... there [are] four important things in life: religion, love, art and science. At their best, they’re all just tools to help you find a path through the darkness. None of them really work that well, but they help. Of them all, science sees to be the one right now. Like religion, it provides the glimmer of hope that maybe it will be all right in the end ... I want ... people to think about the combination of science and religion, basically. People tend to think of them as two very separate things, one cold and clinical, the other emotional and loving and warm. I [want] to leap over those boundaries and give you something that looks clinical and cold but has all the religious, metaphysical connotations too.

(Quoted in Damien Hirst: New Religion, exhibition catalogue, Paul Stolper, London 2005, p.V.)

Further reading:
Eduardo Cicelyn, Mario Codognato and Mirta D’Argenzio, Damien Hirst, exhibition catalogue, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples 2004, reproduced pp.210–11 and 212–13 (detail).

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2009

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Online caption

Hirst's 'Trinity' consists of a trio of cabinets, the central being larger than the outer two, akin in style to a religious triptych. The name 'trinity' itself holds significant religious meaning, the union of three persons (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) in one Godhead; three becoming one. Here Hirst is focusing on three types of scientific study into the human body, factors which have now come to govern our everyday lives. Each cabinet is shelved and filled with plastic medical teaching models, most of which have been purchased from medical supply catalogues. Pharmacology is the science dealing with the preparation, uses, and especially the effects of drugs. Physiology is the branch of biology dealing with the functions and activities of living organisms and their parts, including all physical and chemical processes. Pathology is the science or the study of the origin, nature, and course of diseases.

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