Mat Collishaw: Standing Water at Galerie Rudolfinum

The former Young British Artist, now in his 50s, shows impressive recent works

Optical effects blend with traditional themes in the exhibition of British artist Mat Collishaw’s work called Standing Water. It will be at Galerie Rudolfinum until July 8. Admission is free thanks to a grant from the Avast Foundation.

Collishaw, born in 1966, was in the 1990s considered one of the Young British Artists (YBAs) and counted Damien Hirst among his close associates. Most of the pieces in Standing Water come from the past 10 years, though a self-portrait photo from 1990 and a few other earlier works are included.

Collishaw uses modern techniques including 3D printing and laser scanning but shows a wide array of influences from Dutch masters to Renaissance portraits and Baroque sculpture. Some pieces are inspired by theatrical techniques to make ghostly images, others are bold, large-scale works of painting and photography.

The first piece in the show is a massive work called Albion. It is a laser scan of a real tree in Sherwood Forest associated with the Robin Hood legend. The real tree is propped up with many supports as it is time for it to die, but it is kept up partly to encourage tourism. Collishaw said the piece is inspired by a 19th century theater technique used to create ghosts onstage. A large sheet of clear plastic catches a reflection of a projection of the slowly rotating tree. The effect is like looking at a floor to ceiling hologram.

Another large piece uses a similar technique to make of comment of digitized works. A photo of a postcard of a painting has been broken up into small falling squares that are projected, looking like a trickling stream. This is meant to remind people of blocks of data sent over the internet when sharing a picture.

The image comes from a painting by Francis Bacon, which itself is a distorted version of Spanish artist Diego Velázquez’s 1650 painting Portrait of Innocent X. So a manipulated photo of a postcard of a painting of another paining is turned into a looped projection that is an original work.

In the same room, Collishaw has created large photographs that resemble Dutch still-life paintings. These are all based on the last meals requested by inmates about to be executed.

Marginalized people come up again in a large painting of angry dogs protecting two seemingly abandoned children. The painting evokes both the myth of Romulus and Remus, as well as conditions in modern London and other major cities.

Another large work involving a 3D printed copy of a baptismal font, a projector, and a smoke machine creates the illusion of a floating angel. This is again inspired by theatrical illusion techniques and intended to make the viewer question reality.

The most impressive piece in the show is another one that uses optical effects. All Things Fall, made in 2014, is a large sculpture of a domed chapel filled with figures engaged in the Biblical story of Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents. The static dome begins to spin under a strobe light, creating a modern version of zoetrope, a19th century optical illusion device that was a precursor to cinema. As it spins, the figures seem to move, with soldiers attacking woman and children.

The piece took about a year to make, including the concept and fine-tuning the design. The figures and the domed chapel were made with 3D printing. Collishaw said that with the finished computer files, it is possible to make copies but there is still a lot of time in the assembly process. There is a copy currently in Moscow, but he has no plans to mass produce the item.

The baroque-influenced work is incredibly detailed. Collishaw said that he is not a minimalist.

Standing out from his other pieces as distinctly different in style is a large room-sized box the people can enter. The white walls inside are covered in luminescent versions of images of 2004 Beslan school siege. Spotlights illuminate the luminescent images, which glow and then fade. Similarly, the awareness of such tragedies quickly fades from the public mind, according to Collishaw.

The exhibition has other work as well, many of which try to blur the border between framed static images and video art.

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