Alluvion, an exhibition of the works of British artist and intellectual Mat Collishaw, curated by Danilo Eccher, will be open to the public at M77 Gallery, Via Mecenate 77, from June 7 to October 15, 2023.
Alluvion represents a new landscape modelled by material deposited by floodwaters, just as digital media floods our daily life and changes the social co-ordinates through which we manage communication, making us dependent on a world increasingly mechanised and controlled by technology, an image we find in most of Collishaw’s work.
Adopting a museum-style approach, the exhibition focuses on the ambiguities characterising the work of Collishaw, who concentrates his poetics on the infinite ways of perceiving images in order to create works capable of riveting viewers’ attention with beauty, only to lead them down the darker corridors of their imagination.
«Flowers have those beautiful shapes we love to look at, but the reason behind their beauty is attracting butterflies and other insects for the purpose of disseminating pollen. So flowers manipulate others with their striking physical appearance. Their beauty therefore exists for solely egoistical reasons in fact, and I find this rather fascinating» – Mat Collishaw, 2018.
For Collishaw, beauty doesn’t always mean truth and good: on the contrary, it may be implicated in evil.
This is how the artist, a leading exponent of YBA (Young British Artists) famed for his unnerving visual imagination, introduces the spectator to his multi-perceptual, sensory scenario, in which life and death, light and shadow, coexist.
He sets up this meeting, this dialogue between his works and the public, on a narrow and slippery borderline between familiar and shocking, poetic and morbid.
The M77 Gallery exhibition will be showing over 25 of Collishaw’s works in a sort of narrative that has the dimension and feel of museum display. Photographs, paintings and 3D works give us an idea of the most significant production of an artist whose central themes are illusion and desire. They are accessible and immediate, easy for the public to understand, compact and simple at first glance but densely layered within.
A recurring theme in his work is violence, as in the zoetrope All Things Fall, inspired by Ippolito Scarsella’s painting The Massacre of the Innocents. Commenting on the latter, a work of strong emotional impact, Mat Collishaw says that «paintings of “the Massacre of the Innocents” are based on the repetition of figures across the canvas. They’re designed to arouse our emotions and make our eyes move excitedly across the surface without any intimacy or focal point. Zoetrope capitalise on this aspect by literally repeating the figures to create an overwhelming orgy of violence that is at once terrifying and captivating».
Collishaw is fascinated by the reasons why humans are attracted to violence, which he doesn’t judge entirely negatively in that they’re ultimately connected to learning and self-improvement. This is why he aims to engage the public with violent images that make us wonder why we’re attracted to them.
One of the most significant works on display is The Machine Zone, an installation of robotic birds that perform an algorithm of repetitive actions. This refers to experiments performed in the 1850s by the American psychologist B.F.Skinner, who analysed the behaviour of small animals under the stimulus of a reward system, showing that a casual reward creates a sort of constant uncertainty which encourages a behavioural cycle, a mechanism that’s also the basis of the algorithms guiding interactions on social media. Once again, the artist’s criticism of digital media is alive in his work.
The controversial original images appearing in Collishaw’s Palantir paintings are night vision photographs taken during lockdown, when silence reigned outdoors and noise was provided by digital media. The paintings, like our online records, capture a fleeting, furtive moment of disquiet, a shadowy record of the predator and its prey.
Many of Collishaw’s works seem based on an aesthetic in which the sensuality of the flesh and the brutality of torture are in opposition, which shortcircuits contrasting feelings in the spectator and gives Collishaw’s works an almost mystic aura. This latent spirituality in his images is even stronger in the famous Last Meal on Death Row, a series of grim photographs, still lives of the last meals of prisoners condemned to death in the USA. We immediately notice the evocation of Christ’s last supper before martyrdom on the cross. The religious substrate in all his works is never felt to be a Christian vision of future redemption but rather a presentation of something perturbing in itself and intrinsically human.
Interaction with the public is an essential feature of Collishaw’s works, which have little sense outside the time of contact with them. The relationship with the spectator is absolutely personal, individual, never collective. Collishaw experiments with different media – photography, sculpture, videos and environmental installations – to forcefully gain his viewers’ attention and make them aware of their complicity in being deceived.
Alluvion will be open at M77 Gallery, Via Mecenate 77, from June 7 to October 15, 2023, Tuesdays to Saturdays, from 11 am to 7 pm.