Mat Collishaw, Burning Flower, 2004. Digital (Lambda) Print. Courtesy Inverleith House Gallery.
Kate Day made her way across the Scottish capital to be entertained and disturbed by Mat Collishaw.
This collection of photography, video, sculpture and mosaic installation by Mat Collishaw is on show at Edinburgh’s Inverleith House until February 20 2005 and is the artist’s first solo Scottish exhibition.
A graduate of Goldsmiths’ College, London, Collishaw participated in the Freeze show of 1988. Curated by Damien Hirst, this show was widely regarded as having been the seed of the 1990s movement of ‘Young British Artists’ or ‘YBAs’.
While the YBAs were largely known (and discredited by some) for their affiliation with shock, Collishaw’s work is only really shocking through what the viewer reads into it. Collishaw seems more interested in exploring what and how information is presented than deliberately enticing media coverage.
Collishaw seems to ask why certain images are presented to us, how we feel about them and what right we have to see them in the first place?
Mat Collishaw, Infectious Orchid, 2004. Courtesy Inverleith House Gallery.
One of his ways of asking these questions is to initially attract the viewer with a mesmerising aesthetic before revealing a more sinister detail when they get up close. A proper look at his photographic orchids proves them to be made up of some kind of putrid-looking flesh.
This exhibition is full of such entertaining images and there is an unexpected surprise around every corner lulling the audience into the wholesale absorption of what is around them.
Collishaw’s perceptive understanding of the mechanics of beauty and entertainment plays a large role in his success. In addition, his use of the moving image reflects the main source of media consumed everyday – television – and this helps to make his work accessible.
In the first room I entered Collishaw uses a British fascination with curios and Victoriana to make his sculptures beautiful. A projected film of a peacock onto an antique wooden screen presents a magnificent yet somehow creepy juxtaposition.
Mat Collishaw, 2003. Loop video projection, wood, metal, glass. Courtesy Inverleith House Gallery.
The image is entrancing and strangely dream-like - maybe it is the unexpected combination of new and old that makes it feel this way.
Ideas and imagery are mixed up throughout the show and one piece can be looked at in comparison to the next. There are photographic images of burning roses, as well as a rose behind a wire fence.
An innocent-looking group of sculptured ponds hold small pieces of video footage showing prostitutes waiting by the roadside. It feels a little voyeuristic to move in closer and see these prostitutes and Collishaw is perhaps asking whether our consumption of the media is as voyeuristic as this.
The large mosaic installation, Colony, on the first floor is said to take its image from a photograph of the Abu Ghraib prison camp in Iraq. But because of its size, and really because it has been pixelated (further evidence of Collishaw’s fascination with digital media), again, it is not easy to make out what it is.
Mat Collishaw, When He Comes, 2001. Loop video-projection, wood, glass, horn, Sony video-projector. Courtesy Inverleith House Gallery.
But Barbarossa, the video projection downstairs, goes some way to offering background information, which the viewer can use to better understand the mosaic.
It shows images of indiscernible suffering. Various images, such as the blurred form of a body on the ground with a thin covering of snow, give the viewer a clue as to the essence of what is being depicted upstairs.
The sensation created by all of these pieces is that, while attractive, fascinating and entertaining, they hold deeper and perhaps darker undertones.
Collishaw reminds his viewers that while it is widely agreed that information is a positive thing, we should consider why it has been presented and how we choose to use it.