Marc Quinn’s work is unified by one fundamental question: what does it mean to exist in the world that we live in? A founding figure of the Young British Artists, Quinn’s non-conformist practice has so successfully resisted the canon that his work has in fact become it.
In the early 1990s, Quinn rose to international fame as a figurehead of the YBAs along with other household names such as Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst. Quinn’s first self-portrait, Self (1991), a bust created from ten pints of his own blood frozen in silicone, propelled him into the international eye. The sculpture, coined by the tabloids as the “Bloody Head,” became a symbol for a new era of conceptual art and spearheaded the YBAs’ preoccupation with life and death. Since his first iteration of Self, Quinn has continued to push boundaries and pose difficult questions. Exploring nature, ancient and contemporary history, civil unrest, global warming, love, desire, and the internet, Quinn’s work is a serene collection of philosophical thought experiments that encourage us to rethink the world around us.
Our Blood is a major public work that returns to Quinn’s most famed material. The not-for-profit project is set to start a world tour, beginning outside New York City Library in 2021, and aims to raise money and awareness for the refugee crisis. The sculpture has a simple premise: two large indistinguishable blocks of frozen blood, one donated by refugees and the other by non-refugees, including a number of well-known public figures. The blocks are accompanied by a film sharing personal accounts from the volunteers who participated, making the work a living monument. This unwavering message of solidarity is underpinned by a rigorous conceptual framework that echoes the writings of contemporary philosopher, Judith Butler. On constant “life-support,” the work is dependant on the refrigeration equipment that prevents it from melting. This destabilises the notion that life is self-sustaining, instead positing life as an entity reliant on the infrastructure that enables it to flourish. Confronting the viewer — whatever their personal experience may be — as part of such infrastructure, the work speaks to the inevitable interdependency of the world: responsibility, trauma, pain, death and the faithful potential that life’s infrastructure can always be rebuilt.
Quinn’s work unlades beauty to its most sincere and illusionary forms. Siren, one of Quinn’s many iconic works, is an opulent gold sculpture of Kate Moss contorted in an absurd Yoga position. With a flat and emotionless surface, the work hollows out grand symbols of idealised beauty into the thin veneer of its impossibility and transience. The Complete Marbles (1999-2005), however, does the opposite. Initially inspired by the Elgin Marbles that are neoclassical sculptures depicting human bodies with missing limbs and heads, Quinn elucidates the irony that, although an “incomplete” figuration can be revered in art history, bodies that do not fit normative forms are seldom held in such high regard in contemporary visual culture. In works such as Stuart Penn, Kiss, and Alison Lapper — which was exhibited as the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square and as a 32-foot blow up version called Breath at the London Paralympic Games in 2012 — Quinn filters this ableist truth into exquisite grace and grand magnificence. Speaking back to lived histories and speaking forward to a time where ideas of beauty hold space for all, Quinn’s work is inexorably timeless and will, no doubt, hold its deserving place in the history of art.
“Art is about creating objects of philosophical meditation and emotional communication”