Galerie Rudolfinum is delighted to present Standing Water – a major new survey exhibition by British artist Mat Collishaw. Comprised of 25 works mostly from the past 10 years, this is Collishaw’s largest solo exhibition to date and his first in the Czech Republic. The exhibition will testify to the depth and breadth of the artist’s practice with sculpture, photography, film and installation; and includes seminal works and rarely seen pieces on loan from private museums. Concurrent to the exhibition, another of Collishaw’s works, A Different Self will be presented in the Italian Galleries of the National Gallery in Prague.
Collishaw is a key figure in an important generation of contemporary British artists. Dubbed the ‘Young British Artists’, they came to prominence by exhibiting at the legendary group show Freeze in 1988 – an exhibition that has entered modern art history and was instrumental in placing British art at the forefront of the global art scene. Collishaw’s work Bullet Hole (1988), a large-scale forensic image of a head fractured by a bullet, became one of the defining images of the exhibition and the movement.
The exhibition at Galerie Rudolfinum begins with an early photograph, the artist’s self-portrait as Narcissus (1990). Transferring the setting of Greek myth from its woodland idyll to a filthy London back street, the young artist lies in the mud and contemplates his reflection in a dirty puddle. The work is an early example of how Collishaw mines and references myth and art history, often creating a contemporary dialogue with past masters to explore humanity’s dark side.
Collishaw has never shied away from difficult or challenging subject matter; ideas that deal with death, destruction and decay become hypnotic and compelling. This is exemplified in one of the exhibitions highlights, All Things Fall (2014) a zoetrope sculpture which depicts the Biblical story of The Massacre of the Innocents, the infanticide ordered by King Herod. As the zoetrope spins, the optical illusion engages and seduces the viewer before they fully realise they are complicit in a scene of genocide. Lacking a focal point, the viewers’ eyes constantly move across the work, unable to rest, mirroring the anxiety and unrest within the scene.
Deliverance (2008), is a major installation in the exhibition. The tragedy of the Beslan school siege (September 2004) is played out in the dark as ghostly figures burst into life in staccato flashes, flicker for a while in incandescent light, fade into green and disappear, only to return after a while, with greater urgency. Collishaw immerses the viewer in a past tragedy – subjecting them to the moment’s raw emotional charge. A comment on the 24-hour rolling news coverage of the siege, Collishaw references our seemingly insatiable appetite for images of disaster and trauma, and the complex and often ambivalent ways in which we as viewers respond to these distressing scenes.
A contemporary interpretation of Romulus and Remus, Children of a Lesser God (2007), was inspired by the young children Collishaw saw around the East End of London, where he was living at the time. The viewer is presented with a dark, violent and unsettling scene which upon closer inspection, reveals that seemingly ferocious dogs are in fact feeding the infants that lie naked on the sofa and keeping them safe; suggesting it is possible for a child to be nurtured and protected even in the unlikeliest of environments. From the same period, the series Single Nights (2007) sees Collishaw photograph single mothers with their babies in the style of French Baroque painter Georges de la Tour. Renowned for painting scenes lit by candlelight and his chiaroscuro technique, de la Tour populated his mostly religious paintings with ordinary people from his community. Collishaw employs the same the visual language to present his serene images of the mothers with their children, echoing the potent religious symbolism of the Madonna and Child. Collishaw has made no secret of his fascination with Caravaggio’s dramatic use of chiaroscuro, and Caravaggio’s paintings are subtly animated and re-presented in opulent Murano glass frames in two works from the artist’s Black Mirror series. The original paintings by Caravaggio transformed individuals into religious icons, immortalised in a moment. It is this moment that the artist expands – their fleeting ghostlike existence appearing in front of us now, centuries later, in movement. The mirrors in these works reflect the rooms in which they are shown, so that the animated characters appear trapped in a thin purgatory between screen and museum.
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