Plagues and crucifixion: David Mach's religious art at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh

By Jenni Davidson | 14 September 2011
Photo of a collage depicting a riot with crucifixes outside St Paul's Cathedral
David Mach, The Agony and the Ecstasy. Collage.
© Richard Riddick
Exhibition: David Mach - Precious Light, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until October 16 2011

David Mach is no stranger to controversy. One of his most famous early works, Polaris, was a giant submarine of tyres outside London’s Royal Festival Hall made in protest against nuclear proliferation.

Now he has turned his hand to religion and has given some of the best-known bible stories a radical re-interpretation for his largest solo exhibition to date at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh.

The occasion for the exhibition is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, and there is a floor of the gallery devoted to significant historic bibles and the influence of biblical language on our modern speech, but the stars are undoubtedly Mach’s giant collages and sculptures, which celebrate the narrative in the Bible in dramatic form.

Visitors to the exhibition are immediately confronted by the enormous crucifixion tableau, Golgotha. Constructed out of hundreds of coathangers, it features a emotional interpretation of Jesus and the two thieves wracked by pain with giant bolts through their wrists and ankles.

Photo showing a detail of the head from a sculpture made of coathangers of a man being crucified.
David Mach, detail from Die Harder. Sculpture made of coathangers.
© Richard Riddick
The majority of the exhibition is made up of huge photomontages of Old and New Testament scenes transported to modern day cities.

The Destruction of Jericho depicts a family fleeing an apocalyptic war zone in their luxury car complete with cans of Coke in hand and a Magic Tree hanging from the rear view mirror.

The Agony and the Ecstasy shows riot scenes of both triumph and suffering and The Plague of Frogs seems to depict a plague of not just frogs, but household rubbish. Both are set against St Paul’s Cathedral.

Noah’s Ark has been moved to Edinburgh. Several pictures show the boat being built and loaded at the top of Arthur’s Seat with Salisbury Crags behind.

Jonah, in Jonah and the Whale, becomes a surfer covered in barnacles, while Jesus Walking on Water, also boasts a little surfer style with a black Jesus in baggy short seemingly skimming across the water to rescue Peter.

Mach works clearly references historical religious painting, in particular the work of Bosch and Brueghel, and nowhere is this more apparent than in The Nativity. Here the birth has been transported to a rubbish dump in open wasteland against a background of a Florence skyline. Religious symbolism is picked up in a blue glow between her legs.

Though avowedly non-religious, David Mach has produced a significant translation of biblical stories for the contemporary world and a valuable contribution to religious art. It may not be quite as historically important as the King James Bible, but perhaps just what is needed for the present day.

  • Admission £5 (£3.50 concessions, £2.50 children). Open Monday - Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm.

More exhibition photos:
Photo of a collage showing a plague falling on St Paul's Cathedral.
David Mach, The Plague of Frogs. Collage.
© Richard Riddick
Photo of a sculpture made of coathangers showing a man being crucified.
David Mach, Die Harder. Sculpture of coathangers.
© Richard Riddick
Photo of a collage showing Jesus as a black boy walking on water towards a boat.
David Mach, Jesus Walking on Water
© Richard Riddick
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