Damien Hirst: Artist sets fire to thousands of his creations for London exhibition

Damien Hirst is once again posing the burning question: 'What is art and who decides its value?' - Martha Fairlie reports

Damien Hirst has said he is not burning his art but “transforming it”, as he began setting fire to thousands of his creations as part of a new exhibition.

The British artist, 57, has begun the next stage of his 'The Currency' exhibition in south London, which will see him destroy a collection of his classic polka dot-style artworks in contained fires.

Hirst originally started the project in July 2021 with 10,000 original pieces accompanied by non-fungible token (NFTs) and collectors given the option of keeping either the digital or the physical artwork.

More than half of the collectors - 5,149 - decided to keep the physical artwork while 4,851 opted for the NFT.

Over the course of the exhibition - held at Newport Street Gallery - all of the 4,851 physical artworks will be burned at a specified time each day until the event ends on Sunday, October 30.

Speaking at the exhibition while burning his artwork, Hirst said: “I’ve never known really what the message is and I think as an artist you’re asking a question disguised as an answer.”

He added that sometimes people assumed to know what he was trying to convey, but he felt the process for him was “all about finding out what happens next”.

The artist was dressed in silver metallic boiler-suit trousers and matching fire safety gloves as he collected each piece and burned it in a contained fire box.

Hirst admitted that it felt “better than he expected” to be burning the work, adding: “I think the idea I was worried about it but I think the reality of it is that it’s more transformational. It feels like the NFTs are sort of being [made] permanently as NFTs.

“I’m kind of rooted in the physical art world and I find the digital art world more challenging but I think this has to be part of the process to create truly digital artworks is to destroy the physical artworks as the two can’t exist at the same time.”

He added that he did not see it as a waste as he felt “I’m not burning my art I’m transforming it into NFTs”.

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Reflecting on the future of digital artwork, he said: “I think they’re just an important part of our world, NFTs, of course people, some people, are going to think these are a waste of materials but some people think other people are a waste of space.”

An NFT is a digital certification of authenticity and ownership which is stored on a system similar to those used for cryptocurrencies.

The artworks were created by hand in 2016 using enamel paint on handmade paper with no colour repeated twice on one piece.

A machine was also used to generate the titles of the artworks, which learned some of the artist’s favourite song lyrics.

To ensure authenticity, each artwork is numbered, titled, stamped and signed by the artist on the back with a watermark and hologram containing a portrait of the artist also etched into the paper.

Before Hirst burned each artwork, he showed it to a camera to log its unique code to keep track of every piece that had been burnt.

The Bristol born, Leeds raised artist came to attention in 1988 when he was a student at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he conceived and curated the group exhibition Freeze.