Mat Collishaw, a key figure in the yBa movement back in the 1980s -- his contribution to Damien Hirst’s "Freeze" exhibition in 1988 was Bullet Hole, a large-scale photograph taken from a pathology textbook of a gruesome ice-pick wound in the back of a man’s head -- (b. 1966) is the perfect choice to inaugurate the new Blain/Southern Gallery in London.
"Creation Condemned," his show of six new sculptures, several featuring digital video components, is a macabre study of fecundity and sickly beauty, death and decay.
The artist’s slick digitized imagery depicts the hyper-real and overindulgent, and disturbing in its reflection of the dispersal of artificially exotic images jostling for attention all around us. Engrossed in discovering new techniques of representation, Collishaw has devised several new methods of illuminating what are morbidly beautiful scenes.
Saturated with deep oranges, reds and blues, Auto-Immolation is a mesmerizing slow-moving image of a crimson orchid, locked behind a two-way mirror and housed inside an antique wooden altarpiece. The lushly nodding flower unfolds and oozes sap as it is licked by blue tendrils of fire that appear to be simultaneously destroying it and giving it life.
In Performance, a dense swarm of butterflies also have their life (and flight) plans scuppered by creeping wisps of white-hot flames. Again set behind a two-way mirror within a slightly charred Gothic altarcase of the sort that could have held saintly reliquaries, the LCD display shows desperate creatures whose flimsy wings flap against the glass cage that contains them. The effect is anxiety-generating and almost cynical, as per much of Collishaw’s oeuvre.
For Your Eyes Only is a video triptych of a slow moving, hyper-eroticized yet anonymous pole dancer set within three small, rough-hewn wooden altarpieces. The triptych easily suggests the Trinity, as well as Christ on the cross flanked by two thieves, while the horizontal figure that the dancer’s body frequently makes -- usually two thirds up the vertical pole -- echoes the form of the crucifix.
The only work in the exhibition that has a soundtrack, For Your Eyes Only fills the whole gallery with a sense of foreboding. What was the stripper’s original musical accompaniment is slowed down dramatically, and pierces the gallery space much like a wounded human voice, lending the work an eeriness reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti’s masterful audio accompaniment for Twin Peaks.
In opposition to these intrinsically digital works, Superveillance, the largest sculpture in the exhibition, reconfigures Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s baroque Ecstasy of Saint Theresa into a lithophane -- an etched or molded artwork done on a thin highly translucent material, traditionally porcelain but here fashioned from the more pedestrian Corian, a manmade material favored in the manufacture of cheaper-end kitchen work-surfaces -- that can only be seen clearly when back lit with a light source.
For Superveillance, Collishaw has employed for his light source a roving scanner -- similar to those used in copy machines -- that journeys slowly up and down behind the image, thus altering the way it looks at any given moment. If the clinical modern-day scanner is largely seen as the antithesis of the creative process, it is here used to elucidate and gradually reveal the carving of the original work of antiquity in the same manner as the divine rays of light found in religious paintings.
As religion grapples with the cruelties of nature, so does "Creation Condemned" find a new technological sublime in which the beauty and magnificence of the elements are marked with pain and death. The spirit is found in suffering, and whether we like it or not, it retains the power to hypnotize.
Mat Collishaw, "Creation Condemned," Oct. 13-Dec. 17, 2010, at Blain|Southern, 21 Dering Street, London W1S 1AL
LAURA K. JONES is a journalist based in London. She has written for the Guardian, the Observer, the Times, the Saatchi Magazine and artforum.com.