‘We put too much of ourselves into our product facades, spinning too much mass to our outer edges where we hope it is both publicly visible and instantly lovable. One problem with this strategy is that it leaves too much blank space in the middle, so there’s not much of ourselves left for lovers or friends to discover in the long term. This could be called the centrifugal-soul effect.’ – Geoffrey Miller
In The Centrifugal Soul, Mat presents new sculpture, installation and paintings. Drawing on various forms of illusion, the exhibition explores ideas of superficial truth and the erosive effect of our primal urges for visual supremacy. Mat worked with evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller – whose theory is that the origins of art stem from natural instincts of courtship and reproduction – to produce the title work and centrepiece of the exhibition. The Centrifugal Soul is a zoetrope that produces the illusion of motion through rapid rotation and stroboscopic light.
The zoetrope animates scenes of bowerbirds and birds of paradise as they perform elaborate mating rituals. The work offers a captivating demonstration of how aesthetic diversity has evolved through sexual selection and also reflects the artist’s ongoing examination of our insatiable appetite for visual stimulation. The zoetrope elegantly expresses Miller’s idea that evolution has created an inescapable drive to be noticed above the visual competition, feeding our need for self-promotion.
Other works in the exhibition include a series of twelve trompe l’oeil paintings of British garden birds tethered to perches, a reference to the seventeenth-century fashion for commissioning portraits of prestige pets, made popular through Carel Fabritius’ painting The Goldfinch (1654). The colourful graffiti-tagged walls against which the birds struggle to stand out provide a contemporary example of aesthetic boasting as a form of sexual signalling.
Albion is a new installation that takes as its subject the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, which has an almost mythical status. This centuries-old tree has at its core a hollow rotten trunk, and since the Victorian era its vast limbs have been supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding. The slowly rotating image of the oak is a ghost-like apparition generated by laser scanning.
The exhibition is accompanied by a detailed catalogue which features texts by writer Waldemar Januszczak, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, and an artist interview with writer James Parry.