The Child’s Dream
2008 by Damien Hirst
Not always a fan of Hirst’s boxes of formaldehyde, for me The Child’s Dream appears differently. Rather than tanks of preservative lined like grotesque laboratory bottles in streamlined disguises, this piece appears acutely poignant in its meaning. Images of childhood, of imagination and fantasy, float through all of our minds, conjured by triggers of memory or unintentionally summoned in a bout of nostalgia. Here the unicorn is frozen as one of those images; floating, visible only through glowing and mystical turquoise, the unicorn appears like an image from a dream. Perfectly still and with the clarity of reality, indeed Hirst uses a ‘real’ foal, it is perfectly visible yet trapped in the realm of impossibility. The unicorn remains untouchable, he is not even for our atmosphere; behind glass trapped in a watery dimension, caged in forbidden perfection, his prison is Snow White-esque. The gold that lines the tank, gleaming like gold bars, intensifies the mythological magnificence of such a being. Picking up the glint of his horn, it acts almost as a halo, an ethereal encasement, reminding us (lest we forget) what a figment of a story-fuelled imagination this is. Hirst achieves a rare quality here, that of childhood bottled and saved for later, an image imagined and remembered in all its mythical glory.