Mat Collishaw (b. 1966) emerged from Goldsmiths College in the late 1980s as part of the Young British Artists (YBA) movement alongside other notable figures such as Damien Hurst (b. 1965), Tracey Emin (b. 1963), Sarah Lucas (b. 1962) and Michael Landy (b. 1963). This distinctive phase in contemporary art was branded through an entrepreneurial spirit – creating and marketing pieces through ambitious exhibitions such as the momentous Freeze (organised by Hirst in July 1988 at Surrey Docks). Collishaw has since become a master of lens-based media, making reference to scientific and natural worlds through photography and video.
Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham (part of the Lakeside Arts Centre), presents Collishaw’s first major solo exhibition in Nottingham, where the artist was born. He responds to the idea of heritage with Albion (2017), a ghostly projection of The Major Oak – the largest oak tree in Britain, which is nestled deep in the Sherwood Forest. The tree weighs an estimated 23 tonnes with a girth of 10 metres and is a cultural landmark over 1,000 years old. At its core, the oak has a hollow, rotten trunk. From the outside, it’s propped up by chains and metal supports as part of the wider preservation of British wildlife, protected by the Woodland Trust.
Collishaw’s piece uses laser scanning to map an almost life-size image of the tree, rotating and glowing from out of the screen. The piece provides a larger metaphor for UK culture in the tumultuous wake of the Brexit campaigns in 2016. The tree evokes ideas about national identity and nostalgia – notions which were used within political rhetoric to encourage individuals to vote Leave. Now the tree is left haunting and skeletal – reduced to a shadow of its former self.
Other installations include a rendition of The Centrifugal Soul (2016). The piece was inspired by a quotation from evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller (b. 1965), who noted that “we put too much of ourselves into our product façades, spinning too much mass to our outer edges where we hope it is both publicly visible and instantly loveable. There’s not much of ourselves left for lovers or friends to discover in the long term. This could be called the centrifugal-soul effect.”
The ambitious sculpture references Victorian zoetropes – pre-film devices that produced the illusion of motion through rapid rotation. The Centrifugal Soul builds on the performances of Bowerbirds – animals known for their unique mating rituals. Collishaw has arranged brightly coloured birds and flowers in circular rows, drawing attention to our need for self-promotion and constant visual stimulation. The installation provides a necessary reflection on the idea of “visual supremacy” – acting in a way that attracts the most attention. The exhibition, as a whole, considers the current climate of oversaturation and political instability, digging into our instincts and drivers as human beings.
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Mat Collishaw, Albion, 2017. Courtesy the artist and BlainSouthern. Image: © Peter Mallet.