A Thousand Years, 1990

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Damien Hirst

A Thousand Years

1990

Glass, steel, silicone rubber, painted MDF, Insect-O-Cutor, cow’s head, blood, flies, maggots, metal dishes, cotton wool, sugar and water

2075 x 4000 x 2150 mm | 81.7 x 157.5 x 84.7 in

Image: Photographed by Roger Wooldridge © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

Exhibitions (9)

Solo Exhibition - 2013
ALRIWAQ, Qatar Museums Authority, Doha, Qatar
Solo Exhibition - 2012
Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom
Solo Exhibition - 2009
PinchukArtCentre, Kiev, Ukraine
Solo Exhibition - 2006
Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street, London, United Kingdom
Solo Exhibition - 2004
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Naples, Italy
Solo Exhibition - 2003
The Saatchi Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Group Exhibition - 1997
Royal Academy of Arts, London, United Kingdom
Group Exhibition - 1992
Saatchi Collection, London, United Kingdom
Group Exhibition - 1990
Building One, London, United Kingdom

Context

“It’s as if the artist is the animal and the painting is the record of the artist’s tracks through space and time … I did not want just a record, but rather the actual movement.”

‘A Thousand Years’ and ‘A Hundred Years’ were first exhibited at the warehouse show ‘Gambler’, in 1990. ‘A Thousand Years’ is acknowledged by the artist to be one of the most important of his career. 

In both works, the vitrine is split in half by a glass wall: a hole in this partition allows newly hatched flies from a box reminiscent of a die in one half, to fly into the other where an Insect-O-Cutor hangs. The corpses of the flies inside the vitrine accumulate whilst the works are on exhibition. In ‘A Thousand Years’, a decaying cow’s head is presented beneath the fly-killer. 

Hirst describes how, having come round to the idea of the validity of “new art” and having made the spot paintings and the ‘Medicine Cabinets’, he felt he had lost something, “in terms of the belief I had in whether [art] was real or not.” Feeling the need to make “something about something important”, and having already worked with flies, maggots and butterflies, whilst at Goldsmiths, he decided to create a “life cycle in a box.”[1] The structure was partially inspired by American minimalism and the industrial materials Hirst had seen in the work of Grenville Davey and Tony Cragg. The shape of the vitrine drew from Francis Bacon’s technique of framing his figures within box shapes. Of the influence of Bacon’s frames to his work, Hirst has explained: “it’s a doorway, it’s a window; it’s two-dimensional, it’s three-dimensional; he’s thinking about the glass reflecting.”[2]

Having planned the works for almost two years, Hirst had to borrow money from friends in order to finance their fabrication. Despite this, he insisted on making two, “like bookends”.[3] Throughout his career, pairs and duplicates have remained an important element to Hirst’s work. He states: “It undermines this idea of being unique. There’s a comfort I get from it that I love. Each part of a pair has its own life, independent of the other, but they live together.”[4]

‘A Thousand Years’ and ‘A Hundred Years’ synthesize two forces central to Hirst’s work: the desire to create an aesthetically successful visual display, and an exploration into the deep profundities of life and death. Although admitting to having a “Frankenstein moment” of horror at the death of the flies, the use of living creatures enabled Hirst to incorporate an element of movement into the works. After studying Naum Gabo, Hirst found that the flies successfully satisfied his ambition to suspend things without strings or wires and have them constantly change pattern in space”.[5] 

The artist Lucian Freud stated that, with ‘A Thousand Years’ being one of his earliest exhibited pieces, Hirst had perhaps “started with the final act”. Explaining that, “your whole life could be like points in space, like nearly nothing,” Hirst provokes a reconsideration of how we respond to death in the works; the fate of the flies at the hands of a machine that is commonplace even in vegetarian restaurants, is rendered uncomfortable by the gallery setting.[6] Of the thematic prevalence of death in his work, Hirst explains: “You can frighten people with death or an idea of their own mortality, or it can actually give them vigour.”[7]



[1] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001),128

[2] ibid. 68.

[3] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Damien Hirst: Lift It Up’, Liam Gillick, ‘Gambler’ (1990), unpag.

[4] Damien Hirst, ‘On the Way to Work’,131

[5] Damien Hirst quoted in ‘The Truth About Art’ (ZCZ Films, Channel 4, 1998); Damien Hirst, ‘I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now’ (Booth-Clibborn Editions; Reduced edition, 2005), 32

[6] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Like People, Like Flies: Damien Hirst Interviewed’, Mirta D’Argenzio, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy: Selected Works from 1989–2004’ (Electa Napoli, 2004), 70

[7] Damien Hirst cited in ‘We’re Here for a Good Time, not a Long Time’, Interview with Alastair Sooke, The Telegraph, 2011