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Mat Collishaw, Djangoly Gallery

Jumping out of lockdown into my first live exhibition was a refreshing experience and reminded me of how much I had missed experiencing art close up. The Djangoly continuously puts on accessible and arrestingly memorable exhibitions and this Mat Collishaw show was no exception.

The photography we saw as we entered had the aesthetic of a Dutch still life until we read that the food shown was that of the last meals requested by death row inmates. Chillingly voyeuristic undertones combined with beautiful photography left a lasting impression on me and made me ask what I would choose as my own last meal. I suspect I would have no appetite.

The main exhibit was a huge projection of the Major Oak in Sherwood forest. Collishaw had mapped the tree in 3D and created the most wonderfully intricate rotating projection. Such a simple idea but undoubtedly using cutting edge technology. I really appreciate it when an artist gives us raw simplicity at scale. I found myself staring at the rotating tree for 15 minutes – we could see structures that were impossible to see in the real world, nooks and crannies that are hidden from view. A masterful piece of work.

The photographs in illuminated perspex boxes reminded me of Christian Boltanski and it was enjoyable to experience this first hand after studying Boltanski for quite a while on previous projects. The random illumination of the photographs was mysterious as you didn’t get enough time to study a photograph before it was cast into darkness again. The images appeared to be forgotten wartime photographs and I got a sense that these were flashes of memories or forgotten souls. This was such an interesting way to present photography, mimicking the flash of the camera, capturing a moment in time but then that moment is gone.

The final room was much lighter and showed Collishaw’s Machine Zone exhibit. These were mechanical birds that pecked at a door to receive a food reward. I was reminded of the operant conditioning experiments of BF Skinner in the early 20th century. I predict that the artist is equating the birds’ responses to human use of social media, that confusion-reward system that we all fight against but are hooked into. Exposing the mechanics of the birds showed us the nuts and bolts of man-made artificial intelligence that control our every move. I’ve seen many artists portray their frustrations at human manipulation by capitalist media giants but this exhibit neatly exposed the traits of our animal nature that they delve into. It makes you wonder if there is any hope for us, as can we really dream of a day when we will overpower our hereditary instincts? Time will tell.

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