Mat Collishaw’s work has explored the paradox of beauty and horror since his graduation from Goldsmiths in the late 1980’s. His new exhibition at Patricia Low Contemporary continues this, looking more intimately at the subject of sacrifice and it’s relationship with art.
Collishaw suggests that “in the act of producing any work, there has to be some form of sacrifice, even if only the surrendering of reality to the invention of the artwork”. The reliquary cabinet in his piece titled Invisible Game would have traditionally been used as a means of preserving and venerating the physical remains of Saints. An end has to be met (that of the saint) before the cabinet can function, and Collishaw lures the viewer in to witness the impending sacrifice of the sufferer; a trapped fawn, helplessly awaiting it’s fate. The burning flower and butterfly photographs depict a similar dependency, the very process of their production demanding the demise of the subject, of beauty thwarted by the flames. The 19th-century altarpiece in Performance plays host to a myriad of butterflies that are also struck by a similar fate. The fire heightens the mesmerising quality of this vignette, and the art is created at the moment of loss.
Returning to a certain reality, the series titled Last Meals on Death Rowshow the final victuals chosen by prisoners before execution. Referencing the composition and lighting of 17th-century Dutch still life painting, Collishaw re-makes these meals to reflect the genre’s attitudes towards the temporal nature of life and the meaningless accumulation of worldly goods. Although the foods are generally of a lowly status – fried chicken, ice cream, etc. – their depiction is ever poignant. This decision is the last choice available in life to these inmates. The photographs become surrogate portraits of those executed.
The exhibition raises moral issues that have been constant themes throughout Collishaw’s practice – the fetishisation of trauma and the implications of feeling pleasure over empathy – and acts as a meditation on our relationship with the world through images and how depictions of beauty and cruelty can become inextricably entwined.