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It’s sort of like the world’s most elaborate wedding cake. The zoetrope in one-time YBA Mat Collishaw’s new show is a tiered construction dotted with pastel flowers and preening birds. Slowly, the cake starts to spin. As it picks up speed, the lights dim, the flora and fauna becoming a blur, before the lights cut out completely, total darkness. Then bang! The lights snap back on, strobing and pulsing, and suddenly the whole thing comes alive – the birds are moving, they’re strutting and puffing out their feathers, hovering, sipping nectar from the flowers which open and close around them. It’s a living, physical cinema, and it’s mesmerising, hallucinatory; the blinking lights stutter and mess with your vision, turning this grandiose display into a nauseating, uncomfortable visual experience.
But this isn’t just drama for theatricality’s sake – the birds are a symbol of vanity, the outward drive to show off to find a mate, sexual bravado for evolution’s sake. It’s a metaphor, innit: we’re all so obsessed with the surface that we’re spinning away from what’s inside. Collishaw is playing with the idea that all this posturing distracts from your true, inner self. Deep shit: see how dangerously vain, showy and arrogant society is by looking at a work of art that is itself, you know, vain, showy and arrogant.
The other work here is a haunting 3D projection of an ancient tree in Sherwood Forest – though it should have died centuries ago, the venerable oak has been propped up with steel crutches and chains, forced to exist far beyond its limits. It hovers in black and white, a spectre begging to be allowed to die.
The feeling you get is that Collishaw is a man struggling: accepting his own vanity, but not knowing how to change it, trying to grasp at a sense of his self, but constantly losing his grip. Most people just go on a yoga retreat or buy a Ferrari, but this is a much more aesthetic way of dealing with a crisis.