Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Matt Collishaw, Shooting Stars (2008). 45 gobo images, hard drive, 3 rotating projectors and fluorescent paint. Copyright Matt Collishaw 2008. Courtesy Haunch of Venison.

Mat Collishaw, Shooting Stars, Haunch of Venison, 11 July-31 August, 2008

Works and approaches can form into categories in the mind, and it's good when a show comes along that shakes those up a bit. Matt Collishaw's Shooting Stars show did that, in numerous ways, but mostly in its use of a strict formalism - foregrounding the materials, and processes by which works and effects were achieved - in the interests, not of critique, but of creating ever more fantasy and illusion.

Take the series of works entitled Ultraviolet Garden (2008). Here the Cottingley Fairy photographs have been appropriated by Collishaw and placed in light boxes lit by ultra-violet bulbs. The images - photo's staged in 1917 and 1920 by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths which, they claimed, proved the existence of fairies - are much reproduced, and thus any claim to interest the objects here might have depends largely on the form of presentation Collishaw finds. The visible ultra violet bulbs foreground the sense of staging and theatricality, but, in the darkened galleries, they also recreate the images as convincing representations of some other reality. 

Ultraviolet Garden (1). Light box with UV tubes. 41 x 51 x 10cm. Copyright Matt Collishaw 2008. Courtesy Haunch of Venison.

Alongside their delicate presence is Throbbing Gristle (2008), a two metre wide circular sculpture comprised of an abundance of animal, bird, human and mythological figures. At intervals the whole sculpture begins to rotate, and a strobe light turns the static figures into a bacchanalian scene, where Bosch meets the Chapman brothers in an orgy of drinking, bestiality and baroque excess - topped by  a circle of angelic eagles flapping their wings. Then the strobe lights cease and the model returns to its static position. 

Matt Collishaw, Throbbing Gristle (2008). Steel, aluminum, plaster, resin, stroboscope. Diameter 200cm. Copyright Matt Collishaw 2008. Courtesy Haunch of Venison. 

Watching Throbbing Gristle I found myself thinking less of histories of the moving image and more of the works relationship to commonplaces of gallery going and audience involvement, to notions - often evoked by critics, galleries and artists alike - of works as completed by the audiences involvement, or open to whatever interpretation the viewer may bring. The works here seemed to stick two fingers up at this homily. Moving between two states of moving and stillness, Throbbing Gristle is itself acting out both object and interpretation, absorbing the processes of meaning making into its own operation. All the viewers in the gallery can do - and it's a pleasurable task - is watch and accept and, like some circus audience, marvel.

This usurping of the audience was also evident in Shooting Stars (2008), an installation filling the whole first floor space. Here, images of children are projected on the walls, in flashes and blinks of light, at different locations in the room, so that you often turn and miss the image. I gathered many of the children were naked, that the photo's were early twentieth century, but I'm not sure without the handout I would have realized that these were child prostitutes, nor that some of the photo's were re-staged by Collishaw with an older model.I rarely perceived a concreteness of image as shown in the installation photographs at the top of this review. That said, many do linger on the wall in a faint, blurry projection that seems to represent the audiences own perceptual processes of after-image, whilst others meander across the dark walls in literal shooting star like patterns, slow enough that I could see the flash of light, turn and process something of the contents of the image.   

Again, I found the work a curious mix. I'm tempted to talk of its fragmentary nature, its eluding of the viewers perceptual processes, but actually its a pre-programmed whole, easily sold as such by the gallery. Similarly, Collishaw's notes in the program suggest the piece is to be considered as a critique of the sexual exploitation of children. But this has to sit alongside the fact that a lot of the piece (and maybe all of it in a gallery situation where people walk quickly through) is a pleasant, enjoyable spectacle of light and colour- largely because the images are too fleeting and ephemeral to trouble with their content. More troublingly, post- Barthes writing on the striptease, the piece seems to mimic the very processes whereby the striptease depends on a constant deferral of disclosure. All of which may be the point, and the piece certainly has its troubling, nagging elements. But I disagree with the notes on my handout. I think the work itself makes no worthy claims, and looks for its effects in a more difficult, illusive and amoral territory.  

The Island of The Dead (2008) LCD screen hard drive, baroque frame, two way mirror. 114x 67x 15cm. Copyright Matt Collishaw 2008. Courtesy Haunch of Venison

The same can be said for The Island of The Dead (2008). Within its opulent, baroque  frame, Arnold Böcklin's eponymous painting is turned into an animated video, showing the movements of light and shadow on the island over the course of a day. The image is projected on a two way mirror, all of which makes a work inhabiting a number of contradictions: from thematic plays of life and death, objective and subjective, to issues concerning the objects own status as art commodity, offering a critique of representational traditions - video, painting, elaborate framing - whilst reconstituting them as a new opulent object. 

I enjoyed this show, but if the works here are a critique then I don't think they enact that criticism by adopting an oppositional position. All the pieces here inhabit an emotional and aesthetic territory that posits the image as uncertain, but is also supremely confident about the completeness of the experience it offers. It leaves less a sense of outrage or engagement than a combination of enjoyment and numbing meaninglessness. What kind of critique emerges from such an endpoint?