Self is a self-portrait of the artist, but one that literally uses his body as material since the cast of Quinn’s head, immersed in frozen silicone, is created from ten pints of his own blood. In this way, the materiality of the sculpture has both a symbolic and real function. The work was made at a time when Quinn was an alcoholic and a notion of dependency – of things needing to be plugged in or connected to something to survive – is apparent since the work needs electricity to retain its frozen appearance. A further iteration made every five years, this series of sculptures presents a cumulative index of passing time and an ongoing self-portrait of the artist’s ageing and changing self.
Contemporary visual artist. He is a member of the loose group known as the Young British Artists. He is better known for Alison Lapper Pregnant, a sculpture of Alison Lapper which has been installed on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square, Self, a sculpture of his head made with his own frozen blood, and Garden (2000).
Quinn has used not only conventional sculpture material, but also blood, ice and faeces; his work sometimes refers to scientific developments. Quinn’s oeuvre displays a preoccupation with the mutability of the body and the dualisms that define human life—spiritual and physical, surface and depth, cerebral and sexual.
Chemical Life Support (2005)
These figurative sculptures explore the notion of dependency and our biological reliance on medicine or chemical substances. All of the subjects in these works depend on a drug to stay alive, whether due to illness or an ongoing medical condition. Quinn has mixed one dose of that particular drug with polymer wax to create these sculptures which are installed so that they appear to be levitating or barely touching the floor. On any given day the subject and the sculpture have the same amount of drug in them. For Silvia Petretti, who is HIV positive, the casting wax has been mixed with her required anti-viral drug. Transplant survivor Carl Whittaker’s wax mould contains the drug cocktail that keeps his body from rejecting its own organs. In the works Innoscience and Free, Quinn depicts his first son during and after his severe allergy to cow’s milk as a young infant.
Glove, 2010 (Marble) – 73h x 42w x 29d cm
Rubber Soul (1994)
Shit Head March 1997 (1998)
Quinn has said that “art is an engagement with the material world and its continuous transformative energy as well as the immaterial world of emotions and ideas…”. These early works explore the transformative potential of material and the notion that, for meaning, material is as important as form. The sculptures all use the artist’s own body as a model: both as a particular individual and a generic human form. In You Take my Breath Away(1992) and No Visible Means of Escape (1996) latex or rubber casts of the artist’s body are suspended limply from the ceiling – a relic or shroud-like object echoing the physical presence that once inhabited it. In Template for my Future Plastic Surgery Age 80(1992) Quinn explores the impossibility of preserving the physical body. Both the Shit Head (1997/1998) sculptures and the Shit Paintings (1997/1998) are made using the artist’s excrement. My Ever Changing Moods (1993) points to the extreme fragility of natural things, from body to flowers, and the continuous living flux that is natural life, relying on the harmony and equivalence between plants and the body and the textural contrasts between the two. In Planck Density the artist’s body is represented as a crushed lead cast as if its interior space has imploded or deconstructed, revealing an empty skin or exterior layer. Since lead is poisonous, the implication is also that the body is shedding some kind of toxicity. The Morphology works are made in mirrored glass and explore the notion of a deformed and reformed body, which, unlike the lead works, suggests a freedom in configuring the body’s image. Placed on the floor, their shiny surface reflects the environment in which they are placed, camouflaging their presence. Quinn has described these works as “sculptures of moods and motivations…sculptures of the unconscious and the fragile”.