Readers, this is my new column. Dedicated to 3AM thinking: to those nights when I toss and turn in my bed, and my train of thought derails, catches fire, falls off a cliff and there are no survivors.
GAVIN HAYNES' SLEEPLESS NIGHTS #3: DAMIEN HIRST'S STUPID FUCKING BABEL
Damien Hirst has been busy. By which I mean a series of his assistants have been busy: Damo doesn’t do anything as 90s as work on his own things any more. He employs over a hundred people to get on with that and simply stands at the end of the production line every so often and allows the art to bathe in the light of his presence. Like God, his role is chiefly to "see that it is good".
In Ilfracombe, Dorset, he already owns a posh restaurant and a posher house. Now, he has made the town an offer they can’t refuse: 1 x massive statue of woman, womb with a view included. Her name is Verity, she’s rusty and she’s exposed. And we don’t just mean naked. You can see everything: breast, flange, musculature beneath breast, even the baby in her uterus; surely a far deeper kind of pornography than stopping at the skin (pretty old hat these days… most blokes I know now need to simultaneously plug at least two of their orifices just to get off). With the humility for which he is widely renowned, he has made his Babel exactly ten inches taller than Anthony Gormley’s Angel Of The North.
In rural America, there’s a culture of people using giant fibreglass statues of men holding hot dogs or lobsters to lure customers to their desert motorway diners. Hirst has brought a gopping new advertising hoarding for his restaurant to town, and like the genius he is, got the townsfolk to bend over backwards to welcome it.
The people of Ilfracombe are no doubt grateful to be "on the map" because that is what small towns seem to collectively crave: some trifling acknowledgement of their existence in a guide book for the region. Though they might be a little bit more grateful to their neighbour had Hirst actually donated his work to them. Instead, with the broker’s eye that is one of his most fascinating attributes, he is leasing it to them – offering the town a "20-year loan" of the statue.
If I were going to have something franked onto every seaside postcard, I’d probably want to know it was hanging around. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising if he goes the full Herod by the end of that period, and demands the slaughter of Ilfracombe’s first born in exchange for his continued blessing. He’ll be nearly 70 then, and the thought of Hirst approaching 70 is still one of the more terrifying prospects in a future that already includes a global population approaching nine billion, planetary warming and a nuclear-armed Middle East.
He is already reportedly a dollar billionaire. Put some interest on what he’s got, factor in another 20 years of constant ass-kissing and what you’re left with is a combo of Captain Kurtz, Howard Hughes, Mobutu Sese Seko and Keith Allen. Pol Pot built a palace out of human skulls and called it politics. Hirst could happily extend his "key motifs of mortality and money" by sponsoring a war between obscure African nations and calling it art. Besides, I think we’d all like to read Brian Sewell weighing in on the creative validity of systematic rape.
Of course, not everyone in Ilfracombe is happy to welcome their new art overlords. The art lovers at The Daily Express have already been round and picked out a few art dissenters in the local community. “Personally I think it is horrible,” said Caroline Jackson, who runs the Dolphin fish and chip shop on the quay. “I don’t think it is a great thing to symbolise Ilfracombe, given the town’s rate of teenage pregnancies.” Five hundred years ago, these were the people who would’ve wanted to burn Leonardo at the stake for the way "The Annunciation" increased the rate of virgin births in Florence.
And they would have been right. I can only agree with Ms Jackson from the Dolphin fish and chip shop, Plato and Marx. Private art is another thing, but the only logical purpose of municipalities pulling up public art is to harmonise society. Perhaps it’s time for Hirst to step up to his responsibility and offer us his own British version of socialist realism, re-tooled for the post-Blair "service economy" which first created the conditions that allowed him to thrive.
Instead of peasants with wheat-sheaves, he could offer us murals of regional business development officers inspecting local government grant proposals for extensions to hairdressers. Instead of steelworkers, proud statues of interns making tea and offering low-key sexual favours in the hope of one day becoming the underpaid overworked they serve. Rather than soldiers, grand tableaux of accountants explaining the mechanics of a PFI contract to a chortling board of directors banking another year’s Roedean fees.
And floating above it all, I want to see Hirst, seeing that it is good. He is after all, still the Mack Daddy of everything we are now; a big white, fluffy, cloud-inhabiting culture God to British society. With his 20 houses and globe-girdling lifestyle he’s as omnipresent and omnipotent as they come. He will make your Dorset town thrive or he will make it die far more predictably than any harvest gods.
He may have long since ceased to offer us the shock of the new, but he’s still in charge of us. If we want to know how we should feel about money (fucking gerrit, like), culture (whatever makes you feel good, baby) or morality (boring, innit), we have only to consult his works. No one has toppled him from his plinth, and given how much power he’s managed to pull together since, it seems no one ever will. We’re always going to be living through the era of The Great Undead 90s Guy, so we may as well just get used to it.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes