Damien Hirst’s shark: nature, capitalism and the sublime.

Article


White, L. 2010. Damien Hirst’s shark: nature, capitalism and the sublime. Tate Papers (Tate's Online Research Journal). 14.
TypeArticle
TitleDamien Hirst’s shark: nature, capitalism and the sublime.
AuthorsWhite, L.
Abstract

Research Questions:
• How can we understand the relation between histories of the sublime and changing ideas of nature in the modern period? How can we understand these in turn as related to social change – in particular the growth of early-modern capitalism?
• How can we understand the forms of repetition and reiteration that characterise the history of modern culture?
• How might an investigation of the histories and aesthetic modes of the sublime shed light on the cultural imaginary of our historical moment of economic globalisation and ecological anxiety?
Research Context:
• There is a burgeoning interdisciplinary literature on the sublime, to which my larger body of research in this area has been contributing.
• This paper is a reworked and expanded version of a paper given at the symposium "The Contemporary Sublime," Tate Britain, 20 Feb 2010, focusing on the sublime in recent art. This was one of a series of symposia organised as part of the Tate’s AHRC-funded research project "The Sublime Object: Nature, Art and Landscape." (Part of the larger AHRC Landscape and Environment project.)
Research Methods:
• An interdisciplinary approach is used, synthesising insights from the histories of aesthetics, art, literature, film and popular culture, as well as economic and political history and histories of science and technology.
• A broadly Marxian framework of socio-cultural analysis is used but also interrogated.
• Though there is a focus on Damien Hirst, the paper makes close visual and textual analysis of a range of examples of representations of sharks from both high and popular culture, from the seventeenth century to the present, in order to draw out both patterns and differences.
Findings:
The figure of the monstrous shark is a distinctly modern one, linked to the growth of the aesthetic of the sublime and the re-envisioning of nature of which the sublime was a part. This re-envisioning is in turn linked to the growth of capitalist social relations in early modern culture – relations often figured (like the shark) in terms of the monstrous, terrible and predatory. Representations of the shark are insistently linked to the task of imagining capital, especially with regards to its colonial or imperial forms. They figure the social through nature and vice versa. This opens a reading of the shark in contemporary culture (in Hirst in particular) as a figure of ecological anxiety, but argues that these anxieties in turn are overcoded by their function in imagining globalised (neo)imperial relations

KeywordsSublime; sublimity; cultural history of sharks; history of conceptions of nature; cosmography; natural sublime; ecology; terror; modernity; technology; capitalism; empire; slavery; John Milton; Gustave Doré; Damien Hirst; John Singleton Copley; James Thomson; Steven Spielberg; Peter Benchley; William Petty; Thomas Mun; Edward Misselden; cinema; art; literature; advertising; popular culture.
Research GroupDiasporas
Visual Culture and Curating cluster
LanguageEnglish
PublisherTate Britain
JournalTate Papers (Tate's Online Research Journal)
ISSN1753-9854
Publication dates
Print2010
Publication process dates
Deposited31 Mar 2010
Output statusPublished
Copyright Statement

Post-refereed version as permitted by publisher.

Web address (URL)http://www.tate.org.uk/research/tateresearch/tatepapers/10autumn/white02.shtm
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