EXCLUSIVE: The Damien Hirst Shark Finally Speaks
In honor of Shark Week, GARAGE sits down for an interview with the most famous shark this side of 'Jaws.'
(Photo by DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images)
I’m the shark in the tank. I’m the shark that is the physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living. I was and will be 30 years old. Female. I was caught and killed on the coast of Queensland by a fisherman and Damien HIrst bought me for $12,000.
Cohen, my owner, called the expense inconsequential. Saatchi called me a mistake. I was shipped to London, like that original shark, first brought to the city in 1560, which gave the english language the word shark. Origin unknown, like all origins, probably meaning scoundrel, or villain. Scoundrel being now a term that gets used more often to describe a young male artist, and villain a stock trader, than it would be for a fish.
All day, I float. Unmoving, I float in a tank filled with formaldehyde. Formaldehyde smells like cocaine, just as all shark tanks have smelled since the 80s. A journalist interviewing Crimmen about my conservation process said: the smell of formaldehyde reminds me of highschool, dissecting frogs, being hungry waiting for my lunch period. The smell of formaldehyde always makes me hungry.
Crimmen and his assistants, as they prepared me for the tank, kept me queenly bathed in a 7 percent formalin solution. They drill holes through which to inject me. Crimmen says: You have to have a carefully mapped injection program, there are no nice tests to see if the formaldehyde has been properly absorbed deep inside the shark. You have to see how the specimen behaves to the touch. If it is hard when manipulated and bent, it means it has properly penetrated into the animal’s body tissues.
My skin is hard, my skin is made of interlocking teeth. My body is made of teeth, my body is hunger itself. My mouth is always open, filled with rows of teeth that are just hardened cartilage. In the ocean I was the absolute devourer, the leveler of all creatures fit to size for my appetite.
I know all of this. I’ve heard it all from the gallerists, I’ve heard it from the critics, I’ve heard it from Cohen. In this tank I’m the symbol of the capitalist sublime. But I’ve also realized I wasn’t the first. How was I, prized symbol, the “killing machine in a box” supposed to understand? “It isn’t the first one”, I heard in whispers and then the visitors wandered off. I wasn’t the first one?
It was meant to last forever and didn’t. “There was another shark, you know” someone said again. “They had to re-do the whole thing in 2006. This isn’t the original.” Larry Gagosian had called Damien to inform him of Cohen buying the work for $10 million. Did Cohen know of the phone call? Now I come with a 200-year guarantee. Or your money back. What a blow to the the capitalist sublime. That first shark started to disintegrate from the inside, the skin wrinkled on the body. Crimmen says that the formaldehyde injections are requirement to not repeat the accident.
Before me in the tank there was another shark. At the Saatchi gallery they had to gut the shark and stretch their skin over a fiberglass mold. But before my predecessor there was another dead shark, a shark exposed at the JD electrical supplies. Did Damien know about it, asked the Stuckists, before claiming that a dead shark is not art. And before that there was the shark in Jaws. And before that there were innumerable sharks, each preceding another, each disintegrating to leave a place for the next, as is the case for anyone now living or dead.