PRINT February 1995


Damien Hirst

ARTIST, IMPRESARIO, ARTFUL DODGER—Damien Hirst has never liked to confine himself to one mode of operation. He rose to fame, after all, as much for curating an exhibition (“Freeze,” 1988) as for being in it; and besides his gallery shows his works have included a window display for a London Tower Records, public billboards throughout the UK, opera designs, and the artwork and promotional material for ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart’s latest album, Greetings from the Gutter.

Now Hirst has taken what many see as an inevitable next step for him, into the world of advertising: he has signed up with a leading commercials company, Tony Kaye Ltd., maker of award-winning ads for Dunlop, Nike, and the UK rail network Intercity. The result is a 60-second spot promoting 100% Weird, a Friday-night “cult classic” movie slot on the cable channel TNT. The show goes out to 29 countries across Europe. So far, however, Hirst’s road to full-scale commercial exposure has proven not without its hazards.

Made to the brief of “Let’s be weird ,” Hirst’s directorial debut flashes up a quick-fire cocktail of scenarios that blend David Lynch, Monty Python, and a dash of Luis Buñuel, all set to a Muzak-like soundtrack by Malcolm Mclaren (who makes a brief appearance). Hirst aficionadoes won’t be surprised by the 60-second film’s images, which include a cow’s flayed carcass, a fistful of maggots, and a couple of oozing eyeballs. The action winds up in what is by now recognizable as this artist’s natural habitat: the butcher’s shop. As a commercial, the spot is slick and chicly provocative, but as an artist’s foray into filmmaking it is surprisingly derivative—Hirst seems to have taken too many tips from his new colleagues. The only indication that this is an original work by the master of the visceral showstopper is a brief encounter with an anus defecating a kidney bean.

It may seem otherwise to TNT. The spot was scheduled to be screened in cinemas throughout the UK last September, with short sequences from it flagged up day and night on the cable channel ; this didn’t happen. Though reportedly “delighted” with the film when it was completed back in September, TNT has since issued a statement declaring, “Although the commercial supported the concept of ‘100% Weird’ it was inappropriate for TNT’s overall positioning as a classical film channel. . . . it is now unlikely the commercial will be shown as part of a campaign for TNT.”

“The trouble was, it was too controversially weird, ” says a source close to the project. “They didn’t want to usurp the family-channel image. The directive came from the American management.” Perhaps Hirst’s fleshy peccadilloes struck a raw nerve in Chief Executive Ted Turner, who owns what is reputedly the biggest herd of buffalo in the U.S. Maybe TNT should rechristen its slot 50% Weird and advertise accordingly. Hirst, however, is still on Tony Kaye’s books, and open to offers—but only from the strong of stomach.

Louisa Buck lives in London and is a journalist and broadcaster for BBC Radio Four.