Written by Therese Möllenhoff
“Adam and Eve Exposed” is part of Damien Hirst’s vitrine series. The first work in the series was “A Thousand Years” (1990), which consisted of a vitrine split in half, with one half holding an incubator for flies and the other half a severed cow’s head placed on the floor under an electric fly killer, surrounded by living and dead flies. The realisation of this work would prove to have a decisive impact on Hirst’s artistic development. It was here that he first used the vitrine format, which would become the ideal channel in which he could stage his sculptural installations. The vitrine series comprises a number of sculptural installations that are set in large vitrines made of steel and glass that stand on the floor. Hirst’s characteristic use of the vitrine refers both to science and to art-historical styles with its appropriation of the vitrines of natural history museums and its art-historical references to the quintessential cube form of minimalism and industrial aesthetics. Francis Bacon’s use of cage structures in his paintings was also an inspiration when Hirst brought it into the three-dimensional space and executed his sculptural mise-en-scènes in cage-like vitrines.
“Adam and Eve Exposed” is one of six vitrine works that revolve around Adam and Eve. It was first shown in connection with In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, an exhibition of works by Damien Hirst, Angus Fairhurst and Sarah Lucas at the Tate Britain in 2004. The series of vitrine works with Adam and Eve as the focal point used the two Biblical figures as archetypes of humanity. The six works examine various stages of human decomposition. Hirst has stated that he regards the series as a metaphor for both the life cycle of modern man and the challenges inherent in a relationship between two people. Unlike other of Hirst’s early vitrine pieces, where a human presence is only implicit through the use of props, the vitrine in “Adam and Eve Exposed” is inhabited by two human figures. The large steel and glass vitrine is divided in half by a glass wall, and there is an operating table on each side. On the tables we see the shapes of two human bodies, covered by blue operation sheets. The sheets cover their entire bodies except for leaf-shaped areas cut out around their sexual organs, which reveal what are presumably a female and a male body. The holes in the sheets around their genitals, shaped like fig leaves, are a clear reference to how Adam and Eve covered these gender-defined body areas with fig leaves. But in Hirst’s work the purpose of the fig leaves has been reversed, and they expose, rather than conceal, the sexual organs. Although this situation might at first be perceived as a scene from a morgue showing two covered bodies, upon closer inspection one can discover that the bodies on the operating tables are not dead, but are “breathing”, with their chests rising and falling under the cloths. At the foot of each table is a metal tray holding medical equipment such as scalpels and latex gloves, but also personal belongings such as a watch and wedding ring that contradict the clinical impression and introduce a personalising dimension.
The presentation of the story of creation, including Adam and Eve, is a central motif in Christian iconography. When Hirst combines this with the world of medicine, two different belief systems meet: the religious belief in life after death and the promise of medicine to heal us, although it actually merely postpones our inevitable fate. This is what we encounter in the work “Adam and Eve Together at Last” (2000-2004), where the skeletons of the dead bodies protrude from under the operation sheets. With its visual rendering of a clinical and medical situation with references to the Christian story of creation, the work combines the scientific and religious domains, and thus deals with the great, overarching themes of Hirst’s artistic production: science and belief. But beyond the religious aspect, the Adam and Eve motif can also be viewed as a metaphor both for universally applicable conditions, with Adam and Eve representing two archetypes of humanity, and for a love relationship between two people. Like many of Hirst’s artworks, it is characterised by a duality and tension between opposites. The two parts of the vitrine embody the separation between two people that humans try to overcome. There is also a palpable duality between life and death in the work, as the two figures hover in a sphere between these states. Thus the work addresses aspects of each of the four things that Hirst has defined as important in life: religion, love, art and science.