SELF by Marc Quinn
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
In 1991, a British artist called Marc Quinn created this self-portrait called SELF. This is a sculpture created from 5.7 liters of the artist’s own frozen blood.
This sculpture is the first of a series; Quinn decided to make a new blood sculpture every five years as a way to record his ageing process.
Consider for a second how much preparation went into this work of art.
First, Quinn had to remove the 5.7 liters of blood from his own body which he did over 5 separate sessions so that he wouldn’t pass out. He then made a cast of his own head by covering it entirely with plaster and leaving breathing holes for his nose. The plaster case perfectly replicated his features and picked up minor details like certain creases of his skin, and his eyelashes. The cast was then filled with blood that had been collected, and immediately frozen. The final work was displayed in a Perspex box filled with silicone oil that had to kept at a sub-zero temperature.
Now what on earth is the message behind his shocking and provocative work of art?
These sculptured self-portraits explore the theme of death and immortality. In fact, Marc Quinn was undoubtedly inspired by death masks that were traditionally made during the Italian Renaissance in order to accurately capture one’s likeness and preserve one’s legacy.
But Marc Quinn took this concept to a whole another level, as instead of creating a hollow bronze cast, his sculpture’s cast is literally composed of his own blood. It can therefore be considered the realest self-portrait to ever have been made. The sculpture not only perfectly preserves Quinn’s facial features; it also houses his DNA.
The fact that the sculpture also houses the average amount of blood in a human body (about 5 liters) is mind-blowing and humbling; it makes you realize how little we are surviving on.
In addition, this sculpture’s survival is very much dependent on its care and preservation, much like humans. It has to be kept at a sub-zero temperature to stay intact, and that parallels the fact that how we nourish our bodies will determine our ability to stay intact.
Quinn made a personal connection between the sculpture’s complete reliance on electricity and his own dependence on alcohol (when he was suffering from alcoholism). So the sculpture not only makes a comment on the universal transience of human life; it also reflects a particular and vulnerable part of Quinn’s life.
Audience members were disgusted when this went on show. Yet, despite being controversial, Marc’s works are highly sold in the art market.