You may have been lucky enough to embark on the journey of a virtual lifetime by travelling through the extraordinary installations of Mat Collishaw.
Emerging from Goldsmiths College, London in the late 1980’s, Collishaw is a key figure in the important generation of the original Young British Artists. Although the YBA is not something that he particularly dwells on, he has established a provocative and increasingly intricate body of work since his first participation within the group. During his time at Goldsmiths, he started appropriating forensic photography, fuelling his interest in technology and his obsession with “the slightly morbid human fascination with the darker side”. He has exhibited widely internationally since his first solo exhibition in 1990, including at the Centre Georges Pompidou, The New Art Gallery Walsall and The Guildhall Art Gallery, London.
His new exhibition at Blain|Southern, London, titled The Centrifugal Soul, is a fantastical combination of illusion and haunting reality. He attempts to create “images that are awe–inspiring”, enveloping the human conscious into a world that is equally shocking and familiar, governed by our primal urges for visual supremacy. The exhibition is separated into two fragments; a freestanding sculpture based on the model of a zoetrope, and an evocative projection inspired by the Victorian theatrical illusion, Pepper’s Ghost.
Collishaw worked with evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller to produce the centrepiece of the exhibition, The Centrifugal Soul. This sculpture in the form of a zoetrope –a pre-film animation device that simulates the illusion of movement through the use of rapid rotation and stroboscopic light– directly comments on Miller’s theories. Miller postulated that the origins of art derive from our natural instincts of courtship and reproduction, hence why the birds in the sculpture are condemned to repeat a series of seductive routines.
The dancing birds of paradise and bowerbirds not only entice and trick the viewer into entering an optical world, but their aesthetic beauty comments on how humanity has an unquenchable thirst for visual stimulation. We have an undoubtable appetite to be noticed in a visual competition, much like animals do in the courtship rituals they perform. Perhaps The Centrifugal Soul exaggerates how we cannot escape our own primal urges; we must create art as an attempt to articulate our own frustration with courtship and reproduction. Ultimately, the human race, like any other species, has the fundamental goal to reproduce, and if this goal is not reached then the purpose of life is questioned.
Collishaw continues his commentary on the ways in which we consume imagery whilst struggling with our own biological conditioning with Albion, a new installation in the form of a laser scan of ‘The Major Oak’ in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham. This hollowed-out tree trunk is supposedly the hiding place of Robin Hood, and it is because of this mythical significance that the tree and it’s limbs have been supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding. Collishaw’s rendition of ‘The Major Oak’ is a glowing ghost-like skeleton that slowly rotates on its axis. The eerie presence of the tree is a living representation of an object that is eternally trapped to present the illusion of life. The artist states that “the tree is interesting because it wants to die… it has chains internally holding it up. It’s very sad. It becomes a portrait of England -this mythical idea that everyone wants to believe in, which is perhaps something we should let go”.
Collishaw’s intuitive use of one form of illusion to illustrate another, observing how delusion is drawn out from the optical, is an unreserved refection of ourselves. The dying fragments of ‘The Major Oak’ embellish everything that we believe we are; what we perceive through our eyes, the things we consider to be true, the past, and everything we think we want. He therefore not only explores the tension between the beautiful and the wretched, but also how this tension relates to our own origins. The human race is a vacant shell, filled with memories and past experiences that cannot be escaped; the internal chains that support ‘The Major Oak’ are the same supporting elements that sustain our own thoughts and feelings. We all want to believe that there is a component of Robin Hood in us.
Mat Collishaw’s The Centrifugal Soul is on display at Blain|Southern, London until 27th May, 2017.