This installation was selected for a 2004 Tate ‘Britart’ exhibition, whose purpose was to explore ‘the contemporary consequences of the original myth of falling from grace’ (Tate Britain 2004). In Genesis 2:17, death was the threatened result of disobedience. Here, Damien Hirst seems to present the promise as promptly fulfilled, as Adam and Eve lie separately stretched out under sheets on autopsy tables. The stark scientific materialism of cold metal can be interpreted as a no-nonsense statement that exile = death.
Hirst’s artwork might be said to particularly resonate with the strand of the Genesis story expressed in 3:22, which sees humanity barred from immortality as represented by the tree of life. It cuts through some gentler interpretations in recent Christian exegesis which, influenced by early Christian sources, can soften the curse of Adam and Eve by emphasizing the Lord’s ongoing grace and providence even in their banishment (Irenaeus Against Heresies 3.23; Von Rad 1970: 97). I would argue that Hirst’s piece suggests a return to a previously more dominant Western Christian reading of the passage (often associated with Augustine) where the consequences of primal disobedience are a terminal catastrophe, without the intervention of the Lord through redemption in Christ (Augustine Confessions 5.9).
This installation could be understood as a commentary on Western culture as an autopsy of the Fall. It appears to hint at unfinished work. Used gloves are discarded in a corner of the table along with a disorderly collection of clinical instruments (including, chillingly, a saw), as if left by a careless pathologist. Are we still trying to figure out where it all went wrong by rummaging through the carcass of a dead mythology? How far can such investigation take us?
At first glance, the installation bears little resemblance to conventional representations of the exile narrative in the history of Christian art, and yet it can be interpreted as engaging deeply both with the story of Genesis 3:22–4 and with the artistic, theological, and cultural traditions that have emerged from it. In the light of this broader history, the autopsy motif might suggest the persistent niggle of a riddle to be solved, a mystery to be uncovered, a loss to be understood, and perhaps a wrong to be righted.
Augustine. Confessions. 1955. Trans. by Albert C. Outler, available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/confessions.i.html
Irenaeus. Against Heresies. 1885. Trans. by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, ed. by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing)
Rad, Gerhard Von. 1970. Genesis: A Commentary, trans. by John H. Marks (London: SCM Press)
Tate Britain. 2004.‘Visions of the Garden of Eden: Angus Fairhurst, Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas’, https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/gadda-da-vida/gadda-da-vida-visions-garden-eden [accessed 1 August 2018]
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”— 23therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.