In the zoetrope Sounding Sirens, the instrument’s very mechanics help stage a power struggle, a dominion and subjugation endlessly reenacted, between two entities: an intelligent octopus and a herd of less enlightened jellyfish. In the tormented ballet between the two, the troupe of jellyfish forms an undulating cage round the hapless octopus, whose tentacles reach out from between the spinning slats as if grasping for a foothold, fighting for expression. The very nature of each creature adds nuance to the spectacle: the octopus, often camouflaged, solitary and discreet, inhabits the deep and embodies thought and purpose, whereas jellyfish are surface-dwelling creatures, easily swayed by currents and visible en masse, whose bloom speaks of warming seas. Sirens lure sailors from their paths but they also alert to looming disaster. Yet even dramas at sea remain at the mercy of other forces; the zoetrope dangles from a metal chain, vulnerable to foreign interference, manipulated like a puppet or chandelier.
Many of the children who lived near his studio in Bethnal Green came from broken homes and wander the streets aimlessly, looking for opportunities to relieve their boredom and poverty.
To exaggerate their feral nature, Collishaw constructed a quasi-mythological scene, resembling the story of Romulus and Remus, using modern props to re-enact an ancient fable.
Two babies lie on an abandoned sofa with a pair of wild dogs lolling beside them. The shredded carcasses and the ferocity of the nearest dog give the impression that the babies’ lives are in peril. Yet one baby is suckling the teat of the furthest dog, sucking at the nipples of wild dogs that nurture and protect them, but who seem quite at odds with generally established views of parenting.
Many Victorian fairy paintings contain sinister elements of violence contrasting with their otherwise enchanting and ethereal qualities.
Collishaw borrowed some of these characters to perform in a three-dimensional Zoetrope, an updated version of a Nineteenth Century animation device. As the machine rotates, an animated scene appears that is both compelling and unsavoury.
Like many acts of violence in painting or the cinema it is easy to become emotionally detached to vicious behaviour. The Zoetrope’s uncannily fast revolution evokes the rush of adrenaline triggered by outbreaks of violence.
Charcot, a mentor of Sigmund Freud, performed many acts of hypnosis on his female patients before subjecting them to examinations for hysteria.
An image of Charcot conducting these tests hangs above Freud’s couch at his study in London, a copy of which Collishaw has used in this work. Charcot altered the condition of his patient before arriving at an evaluation of their condition.
Similarly, this anamorphosis presents a distorted image, only readable through the reflection in the mirrored cylinder.
Magic Lantern was commissioned by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
They wanted a temporary work, to be exhibited in the Cupola, which reflected the V&A’s standing as a monument to cultural achievement. Collishaw built a large zoetrope in the octagonal structure of the cupola, animating large moths that flutter around the glowing interior and transforming the crown of the museum into something resembling a lantern. The cupola was lit to represent the museum itself as a beacon of light to which objects of beauty, activity and life are drawn.
The zoetrope was invented in Victorian times, and has been updated to animate three-dimensional models rather than the archetypal two-dimensional zoetrope. The slot through which the illusion is usually viewed has been replaced with a stroboscope, a more contemporary type of shutter. The work thus bridges the time-span from the museum’s inception to the present day.