Marc Quinn (b. 1964) is a British artist and one of a loose group known as the Young British Artists. He is known for ‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’ (a sculpture of Alison Lapper, an English artist who was born without arms) and ‘Self’ (a sculpture of his head made with his own frozen blood). Quinn has used blood, ice, and faeces to make sculptures; his work sometimes refers to scientific developments.
Quinn’s oeuvre displays a preoccupation with the mutability of the body and the dualisms that define human life: spiritual and physical, surface and depth, cerebral and sexual. Quinn’s sculpture, paintings and drawings often deal with the distanced relationship we have with our bodies, highlighting how the conflict between the ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ has a grip on the contemporary psyche. In 1999, Quinn began a series of marble sculptures of amputees as a way of re-reading the aspirations of Greek and Roman statuary and their depictions of an idealized whole.
‘Self’ is described by Quinn as a ‘frozen moment on lifesupport,’ the work is carefully maintained in a refrigeration unit, reminding the viewer of the fragility of existence. The artist makes a new version of ‘Self’ every five years, each of which documents Quinn’s own physical transformation and deterioration. Self, like many other pieces by the YBAs, was bought by Charles Saatchi (in 1991 for a reputed £13,000). Despite reports that the piece had melted, it was exhibited by Saatchi when he opened his new gallery in London in 2003. In 2005, ‘Self’ was sold to a US collector for £1.5m.
The National Portrait Gallery in London acquired the 2006 iteration of ‘Self.’ His portrait of John E. Sulston, who won the Nobel prize in 2002 for sequencing the human genome on the Human Genome Project, is also in the National Portrait Gallery. It consists of bacteria containing Sulston’s DNA in agar jelly. ‘The portrait was made by our standard methods for DNA cloning,’ writes Sulston. ‘My DNA was broken randomly into segments, and treated so that they could be replicated in bacteria. The bacteria containing the DNA segments were spread out on agar jelly in the plate you see in the portrait.’
His next important piece in terms of his public profile was the frozen garden he made for Miuccia Prada in 2000, installed at Fondazione Prada in Milan. A whole garden full of plants which could never grow together kept in cryogenic suspension. In interview, Quinn explained how this worked, ‘When working with the frozen material, it’s like doing an experiment—different things come out of it. When you freeze something, it normally dries up. To avoid that, you have to stop the air from getting to the object. You can do this by casing it in [silicone].’
Quinn has made a series of marble sculptures of people either born with limbs missing or who have had them amputated. This culminated in his 15 ton marble statue of Alison Lapper, a fellow artist born with no arms and severely shortened legs, which was displayed on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London from 2005 until 2007. (The Fourth Plinth is used for rotating displays of sculpture.) In ‘Disability Studies Quarterly,’ Ann Millett writes, ‘The work has been highly criticized for capitalizing on the shock value of disability, as well as lauded for its progressive social values. ‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’ and the controversy surrounding it showcase disability issues at the forefront of current debates in contemporary art.’ A large reproduction of the sculpture was used as a central element of the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony.
Since 2006, Marc Quinn has made numerous studies of the supermodel Kate Moss. In 2006, ‘Sphinx,’ a sculpture of Kate Moss by Quinn was revealed. The sculpture shows Moss in a yoga position with her ankles and arms wrapped behind her ears. In 2008, Quinn unveiled another sculpture of Kate Moss, this time in solid 18 carat gold, called ‘Siren,’ which was exhibited in the British Museum, London. The life-size sculpture was promoted as ‘the largest gold statue since ancient Egypt’ Siren was identified as using a similar strategy as Damien Hirst’s diamond skull.
In 2010, Quinn revealed a series of new sculptures at Londons White Cube gallery including ‘The Ecstatic Autogenesis of Pamela’ based on film actress Pamela Anderson and ‘Chelsea Charms’ based on pornography model known for gargantuan breasts. Quinn’s new models include ‘Catman’ (Dennis Avner, who has been tattooed to look like a cat) and transsexual people such as Thomas Beatie, Buck Angel, and Allanah Starr. Quinn’s portrait sculpture ‘Buck & Allanah’ depicts the two nude, standing hand in hand, in a pose reminiscent of Adam and Eve. The sculpture of Thomas Beatie depicts him at full-term pregnancy, bowing his head and cradling his abdomen with two hands.