Joseph Wright of Derby made a painting of an early scientific experiment with an air pump. The purpose of the experiment was to see if life was possible in a vacuum. Wright paints a bird trapped inside a glass bell jar surrounded by a small family who respond in various ways to the event of the dying life. The older men are scientifically enthralled while the young girl cries.
Collishaw remade this scenario by filming a canary and then projecting the video back inside a bell jar on a ground glass screen. The viewer comes and goes, but the canary is trapped, condemned to hop around for eternity.
The video of an English oak is projected into a camera glass negative carrier.
In 1914, the suffragette Mary Richardson smashed the plate-glass protecting Velasquez’ Rokeby Venus in the National gallery and slashed the canvas. The painting was then removed from the gallery and repaired by restorers in the basement. It was stitched up and the scar disguised, leaving it bearing no sign of the attack.
Richardson professed that the Rokeby Venus portrayed a man’s eroticised image of woman, and that the painting should no longer be on public display until the relationship between the sexes was equal.
Ironically, her protest resulted in the desecration of the female body depicted in the painting. Collishaw found it particularly counterintuitive to violate the image of a woman’s body to protest against the treatment of females.
As well as meticulously hiding the scar in the painting, evidence of this incident ever having occurred has been also been largely concealed. Eighty-five years later, Collishaw exhibited a copy of this iconic painting, displayed behind plate-glass in a gallery, before attacking the work in the same manner. As with the original, it was withdrawn from view.
The Victorians seemed to dwell on images of little girls lost in the woods, often asleep and vulnerable. Collishaw photographed schoolgirls in an overgrown graveyard imitating these pictures. They are surrounded by the detritus of juvenile substance abuse: Alchopops, glue bottles etc.
Their fecund environment indicates the awakening of a wild, potentially uncontrolled state of mind. Their drugged state adds seediness to the voyeurism suggested by the pinhole aperture around them.