this issue contains
>> Immaculate White: Art and Winter
>> True North: Isaac Julien
>> Frozen Sculptures: Marc Quinn
>> Felt and Fat: Joseph Beuys

>> archive

Below Zero:
Marc Quinn's Visions of Beauty, Art, and Immortality

From the series Garden 2, 2000
Deutsche Bank Collection

In his sculptures and installations, the British artist Marc Quinn lets blood freeze and flowers perpetually bloom - suspended in silicone or conserved in precisely engineered refrigeration units. The promise of eternal life and perfect beauty in Quinn's works, however, contrasts with the complicated devices required to support them, without which his still lifes would rot or melt. Is Quinn pessimistic to suggest that life is as fleeting as an ice sculpture and as fragile as the brittle stems of his refrigerated lilies? On the contrary, the London-based art critic Ossian Ward argues; the author describes why Quinn's worlds aren't quite so cold as they might seem at first sight.

The Immortality Institute is an organisation solely dedicated to facilitating extreme life extension, or in other words, trying to discover how we may, one day, live forever. Artists, writers, and politicians have long been accused of a parallel pursuit, that of striving to leave their mark on the world in the form of music, poetry, or a historical decision that outlives its creator, for the sake of posterity. The achievements of artist Marc Quinn lie somewhere in between these two groups. His already significant career as a YBA (Young British Artist) has undoubtedly left its legacy on British art as well as on the history of sculpture, and his work continues a deep and rich engagement in the fusion of science and art, or as he puts it, in "the fundamental mysteries of existence".

From the series Garden 2, 2000
Deutsche Bank Collection

Arguably, Marc Quinn’s use of science and technology is unsurpassed in the field of art. The list of materials that might constitute a typical work could include DNA strands, liquid silicone, the artist’s own sperm, faeces, or chemicals such as vitamin A acetate, folic acid and riboflavin. Indeed his studio more closely resembles the cleanliness and order of a fertility clinic, complete with deep freezers and sober white furniture, than it does an artistic or creative environment. However, Quinn certainly recognises the creative potential of science.

Self, 1991, © the artist
Courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London)

Aside from any philosophical concerns, the key to immortality is, according to the Institute, the advancement of science through technology. Cryonics, or the principle of freezing a body so that it might benefit from future developments in medicine, is a theory that has been gaining momentum since the 1960s, and one laboratory, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, now has 59 bodies in cryopreservation and 650 more people signed up for future participation. Perhaps the most enduring work of art yet made around the issue of cryonics and immortality, as well as one of the most iconic examples of late 20th-century figurative sculpture, is Quinn’s infamous refrigerated installation Self of 1991, a cast of his head made from 9 pints of his own frozen blood.

Rubber Soul, 1994, © the artist
Courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London)

By gradually drawing off the approximate amount of blood that human beings carry around (around 4-6 litres depending on gender), Quinn was making a statement about all of us, despite the use of his own likeness. By freezing his liquid life force, he left the twin possibilities that we could live on forever or melt away at any minute.

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