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Damien Hirst's hero refuses to be a brand


A young naked man sits on a jet engine, which resembles a torso with entrails of twisted tubes and pipes like thighs protruding from its groin. It's a composition of contrasts: a fragile youth with a defunct war machine.

The piece forms part of a series, Untitled, by artist Roger Hiorns, to go on show at the Calder – the Hepworth Wakefield's new contemporary art space. A group of naked young men will each sit on a selection of objects: a stainless-steel preparation table, a bench smeared with calf brain, giant slices of concrete, flat-screen televisions, containers filled with the dust of a pulverised altarpiece, a concrete bench from Camden Council. Some objects – benches, the table – have a flame burning at one end. The arrangements seem impossible to make sense of. The artist refers to his work as propositions, a deliberately open-ended term.

Hiorns is probably best known for Seizure, the interior of a condemned apartment in Elephant and Castle, which he crystallised with copper sulphate, now at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Damien Hirst selected two copper-sulphate-dipped engines by Hiorns (which Hirst owns), as his luxury on Desert Island Discs earlier this year. Hiorns works very differently to the YBA generation: more intellectual, without antics or showmanship.

The artist avoids making work, which could become as recognisable as a brand. Crystallised engines displayed alongside polystyrene sculptures splattered with calf brain, a machine which drops vandalised coins to the floor, a pile of dust in one corner, and a mound of blue contact lenses in another.

“I don't want to get trapped in my own work. I'm not trying to satisfy a general audience. Embracing inconsistency means you're not just living by a sense of who you are aesthetically, or believing too heavily,” he says. “I want there to be more questions than answers. I don't want to be too easily liked.”

Hiorns blends brains in his studio, using a food processor and brains bought from the butcher. One woman was so horrified when she realised what she was looking at – it wasn't obvious until you read the label – that she spun on her heel and walked out.

A planned project is to bury a passenger aeroplane underground in the Welsh hills. A shaft will lead from the earth's surface down into the fuselage below. It's ambitious, on a scale with Seizure, and somewhat bonkers.

But, he explains: “It's important to try to subvert and direct the pathway of technology somehow.”

Roger Hiorns: Untitled is at the Hepworth Wakefield (hepworthwakefield.org) to 3 November