Marc Quinn: the emergence of Young British Artists was 'like the birth of the universe'

The artist, speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival, also claimed the legacy of the Young British Artists was 'bringing real life into art'

Marc Quinn at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Supplied
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Marc Quinn has described the emergence of the Young British Artists (YBAs), including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, in the Nineties as "like the birth of the universe".

Quinn, best known for his 1991 sculpture, Self, a self-portrait created using 10 pints of his own blood, also claimed that "the defining thing about the YBAs [was] bringing real life into art".

Self (1991), Marc Quinn. Courtesy of the artist
Self (1991), Marc Quinn. Courtesy of the artist

Speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Quinn said: "It was an amazing time, a perfect storm. There was [art collector] Charles Saatchi, who had his museum and who was willing to show untested art. There was a recession, so art collectors didn't want to spend money, they wanted to buy cheap art.

"And there was the legacy of punk, so people of my generation were thinking, ‘We’re not going to wait for some gallery to show our work, we’ll just do it ourselves.’

“All these things came together and it was a big explosion […] It’s like the birth of the universe, all this cloud and gas, which then solidifies into different things afterwards.”

Asked about the legacy of the YBAs and their work, such as Hirst’s pickled shark and Emin’s unmade bed, Quinn explained that it was the group’s willingness to bring “real life into art” that was so important.

“That hadn’t been done quite as viscerally before,” he said. “And I think that’s the contribution we’ve made.” Quinn added: “It’s [also] good to be called ‘young’ when you’re in your 50s, I like that.”

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), Damien Hirst. Courtesy of the artist
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), Damien Hirst. Courtesy of the artist

Quinn was at the Jaipur Literature Festival to speak about his latest installation, Bloodcube, which will be on display outside the New York Public Library. The piece comprises a pair of metre by metre cubes, each one filled with blood drawn from more than 5,000 people.

One cube is filled with the blood of refugees; the other with blood from people who live in their country of birth. The cubes are indistinguishable. According to Quinn, this non-profit artwork highlights the fact that all humans, fundamentally, are the same. “It’s about equality of voice,” he said.

“[The cubes] are like DNA libraries. All these people are [put] together, from every religion, from every race, from every country and ideology,” Quinn continued. “It’s as if they’re crushed together like the people in some of the [refugee] boats we saw in 2015. But they have also come together to make this incredibly solid block.”

Bloodcube is accompanied by a video, which features the words of those who gave blood for the project, including Bono, Jude Law and Sting. "How come some people are so valued by society and others are so unvalued?" asked Quinn. "I wanted to put them on the same level and blood is such a common denominator."

The Jaipur Literature Festival is on until Monday January 28. For more information, visit: