Self by Marc Quinn is the kind of portrait that elicits a physical reaction to the visitor. The girl next to me claims she feels sick, whereas the little boy behind her looks at it with a mixture of fascination and wonder.
I stand there and register bypassers’ reactions in this small, slightly chilly room at the National Portrait Gallery. People pass by other paintings without a second glance however when they reach this sculpture they stop; they observe in disbelief, in dismay, in disgust and in various degrees of distance.
Self is constructed by eight pints of blood, taken from and frozen by the artist. Even though the blood is pasteurized it darkens over time, a sign of deterioration that is as inevitable as death – life can not be preserved forever, even as art. It is renewed every six years, a record of the artist’s DNA and the effects that his mortality and the passing of time has on it.
I never found it morbid or disgusting. I find it profoundly beautiful. It is a testament to life, death, and the liquid that contains both, the seconds that pass and the feelings that it evokes. Life in stasis, frozen in the middle of the room.