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Damien Hirst - Black Scalpel Cityscapes at White Cube São Paulo

November 11, 2014 by Ishah

On 11th November, White Cube São Paulo will unveil a collection of paintings from Damien Hirst's latest series, the 'Black Scalpel Cityscapes'. Described by the artist as ‘portraits of living cities’, the paintings are made up of vast numbers of surgical instruments that combine to create bird’s-eye views of urbanised areas from around the world.

With the series, Hirst investigates subjects pertaining to the sometimes-disquieting realities of modern life – surveillance, urbanisation, globalisation and the virtual nature of conflict – as well as elements relating to the universal human condition, such as our inability to arrest physical decay. Manmade features and natural elements such as buildings, rivers and roads are depicted in scalpels as well as razor blades, hooks, iron filings and safety-pins, all set against black backgrounds. The 17 cities included in White Cube's exhibition are either sites of recent conflict, cities relating to the artist's own life, or centres of economic, political or religious significance and includes Washington; Rome and the Vatican City; Leeds (where the artist grew up); Beijing; Moscow; New York; and London. Each city’s particular history is written into its geographical spread, showing how it has incrementally grown and developed over the years. 

Hirst has described the steel scalpels, which have recurred in his work since the early ‘90s, as ‘dark but at the same time light’, a reference to the visual appeal of the highly reflective, precision-tooled metal, and the universal fear of the surgeon’s knife. Playing on elements of wordplay surrounding ‘surgical strikes’, Hirst here uses them to dissect not only individual concerns over mortality, but the deep-rooted, society-wide anxieties over surveillance, the digitisation of warfare and the sense of a remote Orwellian order and its imposition on our individuality.