ERGUN BABAHAN

Yes, every human being will one day die, but while we’re here, let’s enjoy

LONDON -- Damien Hirst, born in 1965, has works which go for some of the most expensive »»

LONDON -- Damien Hirst, born in 1965, has works which go for some of the most expensive prices of any living artist. Born in Bristol, Hirst's works are well known by many, though perhaps one of the most famous and most expensive of his pieces is his skull decorated by diamonds. This piece, titled “For the Love of God,” along with many others, will be on display at the Tate Modern Museum in London until Sept. 9.

When it comes to cultural tourism, the United Kingdom is one of the most successful countries in the world. You can certainly see this reflected in the international nature of the crowds that come flowing into the Tate in London. Throughout London, at any given moment, there are cultural activities going on all around the city.

If you know the right people, you might even be able to find yourself some tickets to see the play “Big and Small,” starring Cate Blanchett. This play, written by German playwright Botho Strauss, has a scene that surprises us: A Turkish actor named Yalın Özüçelik plays a Turkish character in one scene, actually even speaking Turkish during the scene. As for star Cate Blanchett, she is the driving force in the play, which lasts for two-and-a-half hours, and never once leaves the stage throughout the entirety of the play.

The audience members watching this play are, like those who flow into the Tate to see Hirst and others artists' pieces, from all over the world; they are mostly from Europe, but some are from other places as well. This play is of course not the only thing going on at London's Barbican Centre -- which advertizes itself as Europe's largest art center. There are all sorts of exhibitions, concerts, film showings, restaurants and bars, and they are all overflowing with people.

The word “barbican” used to signify the towers that marked and guarded the entrance to the city. Here, though, “barbican” is clearly a reference to how this center is serving as a guard and protector of the arts.

The theme of death plays regularly throughout Hirst's works of art. When he was very young, he began watching anatomy lessons at Leeds University, encountering for the first real time the theme of death that was to go on and mark many of his works.

Hirst's visits to natural history museums left enough of an impression on him to drive him to create pieces such as his famous rotting bull and cow carcasses, or sheep in formaldehyde.

As for his use of butterfly motifs, these are chosen less for their beauty than for their ability to symbolize the sheer brevity of human life. Hirst is an artist whose signed and limited edition works, even when they are just prints, can go for as much as 30-40 pounds.

It is a warm Sunday afternoon, with weather hot enough to allow everyone a relaxing day outside. The sun is shining as visitors head to art exhibitions, followed by trips to cafes and restaurants to fill their stomachs and sip their wine. The crowds are energetic and happy. Due to the London Marathon, sponsored by Virgin Airlines, most of the roads near the Thames River are closed. This means that thousands of people can stroll around these roads, unhindered by traffic.

As I observe all of the clear value given in London to free art and artists, it makes me think about all of the hindrances against and interventions in art that occur in my own country. These are depressing developments, and I refer to everything from the overturning of the directorship of the İstanbul City Theaters to the political opining on the subject of the content of the popular TV series “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (Magnificent Century).

One needs to understand that the target of European Union membership will not be achieved simply through legal regulations or shaking off the military tutelage that has had such a grip on our society. Let us not forget that yes, every human being will one day die, but just knowing and comprehending this should not prevent us from living and expressing ourselves freely while on this world we inhabit.

2012-04-23

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Columnist:: ERGUN BABAHAN