School: The Archaeology of Lost Desires, Comprehending Infinity and the Search for Knowledge, 2007



School: The Archaeology of Lost Desires, Comprehending Infinity and the Search for Knowledge
Dimensions variable
Acrylic, painted steel, silicone, ceramic floor tiles, stainless steel meat rack and meat hooks, resin chair, umbrella modified with carbon fibre and gold plating, plastic and painted steel bird cage, stainless steel bird cage stand, wooden hat stand, walking cane, mortar board hat, monofilament, sides of beef, sausages, dove and formaldehyde solution; stainless steel autopsy tables, glass, silicone, drip stands, saline bags and solution, hypodermic needles, plastic, autopsy instruments, stainless steel syringe, stationery, fluorescent strip lights, tree branch, ashtrays, cigarettes, sand, drinking glasses, water, text books, stainless steel buckets, pigs blood, lamb carcasses, sheep heads, porbeagle shark and formaldehyde solution; chair, painted steel and plastic birdcage, live lovebirds, dunce hat, ashtray and cigarettes; glass, painted steel, blackboard, stainless steel hooks and chain; glass, stainless steel, medical packaging and reverse motion clocks.
Image: Photographed by Robert McKeever, courtesy of Gagosian Gallery © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012


In 2007 Hirst was invited by the landmark New York skyscraper Lever House, to create a site specific installation for the building’s lobby. ‘School : The Archaeology of Lost Desires, Comprehending Infinity and the Search for Knowledge’ is described by the artist as: “his flock. An installation without any walls, only glass.” The piece included three rows of equally spaced tanks of formaldehyde-preserved, flayed sheep carcasses acting as pupils.[1] The tanks were laid out on autopsy tables, and the bodies – severed from the heads – are fed through intravenous tubes. At the rear of the classroom was a shark in a tank on which was placed a tree branch. Beneath the autopsy table carrying the shark’s tanks was an overflowing ashtray. Hirst made the installation’s focal vitrine work after Francis Bacon’s ‘Painting’ (1946). Explaining: “when [a work] becomes three-dimensional it turns into something else. And [Bacon’s paintings] work incredibly well, three-dimensionally.”[2] Bacon’s technique of boxing in his figures within three-dimensional ‘spaceframes’ also relates to Hirst’s use of “spatially containing” his sculptures in vitrines and tanks.[3]

The complex installation also included: two live birds in a cage; a scribbled on blackboard; a series of ‘Medicine Cabinets’ and backwards-running clocks. It was accompanied by a soundtrack written by Antony Genn and Martin Slattery.

[1] Damien Hirst cited in Carol Vogel, ‘Damien Hirst and Lever House: In New York, a $10 million “School’’’, New York Times, 12 November 2007

[2] Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 180

[3] 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), 33