The festive season at Kew was inaugurated this week and – as it does each winter since its inception in 2013 – its light-and-nature exhibition is the finest display in the city. Lanterns drape from the trees, candles flicker in the breeze, abstract fluorescent blossoms bloom, the Temperate House is a blazing cathedral, LED lights glide across the lake and multicolored fountains brighten up the Palm House.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Only a few modern artists can rival it – but entering Kew’s Shirley Sherwood Gallery and encountering Matt Collishaw’s “Albion” immerses you into a silvery moonlit woodland, where an almost life-size negative of a tree is encircled by angled mirrors and see-through film, projected on its twisted trunk. And the spectral twisting branches appear to levitate. Captured by laser scanner, this is Sherwood Forest’s 800-year-old primary oak, a tree connected with Robin Hood as a symbol of English resilience and strength, but in actuality hollow, decayed and shackled with chains and crutches. In Collishaw’s interpretation, the scaffolding becomes an unearthly pattern of slender lines.
It is a vision of magnificence in nature that is haunting, unsettling, suspended between life and death: mournful and contemplative, until, moments later, you find yourself under strobe light, enlivened by the sculpture “The Centrifugal Soul.” Is pulled in. Here a group of bowerbirds peck, hover, fly, dance around bright exotic flowers, their heartbeats as busy as breathless youngsters in a nightclub.
A detail from Matt Collishaw’s ‘The Centrifugal Soul’ (2016) © Peter Mallet
Collishaw was a young British artist in the 1990s, memorable for a self-portrait in the pose of an urban Narcissus, gazing at his reflection in a muddy puddle in a concrete alley. His career since has been a compelling, if somewhat underrated, one. He is intrigued by our insatiable craving for visual stimulation, which he sees as an evolutionary pressure – the need to be noticed above competitors, compulsive in the self-promoters of social media like birds endlessly flocking to the flashiest flowers. Take around. His own art shifts inventively and unexpectedly between styles, sensibilities, moods.
For the Kew Exhibition petrichor (the word means the refreshing smell of rain on dry ground), each room is a competitive environment in a different medium. Together they create a wonderland of images past, present and future, fantastically combining Renaissance watercolors, Victorian zoetropes and French Symbolism, AI creations, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and much more, as Collishaw combines art, nature and discuss the changing relationship between technology and technology.
He initiates with a tribute to a revolutionary work of mimesis, when in “Large Turf” (1503) Albrecht Dürer made a detailed study of a clump of soil and its stems, roots and leaves, cut by a blade of grass . For the first time a simple piece of nature was being taken as the starting point for a painting. In “Whispering Weeds,” Collishaw has reproduced and digitally animated the image to make the plants sway in a light breeze, bringing to life the excitement and optimism of nature transforming into art in 16th-century Europe.
In the 1990s, Matt Collishaw was one of the youthful British artists
Dürer scholar Norbert Wolf says that the “Large Turf” symbolizes a cultural moment of “the unity of perception, art, science and natural philosophy”. From such a delicate, hopeful beginning, Collishaw races through history, tracing how the balance became unstable.
Already in the 17th century, the representation of nature was moving from mastery of reliable depiction to manipulation. Dutch flower paintings are as subtle as Dürer’s, yet stylised, extremely exuberant and lavish, improbable landscapes combining flowers from different seasons.
For his new work “Eluvian,” Collishaw fed these flowers into an AI application, adding hints referencing the insects that pollinate the plants. He painted the generated images as a series in oil on canvas – returning them to their original form so that from a distance they resembled the Old Masters. Looked at closely, each silky petal and luscious bud becomes a segment of an insect’s body, a delicate antennae, a fluttering wing, a beaded eye.
From ‘Heterosis’, an AI-assisted projection of an imaginary garden of mutable flowers © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Awe-inspiring and horrifying, the paintings bear names like “That incomprehensible explanation”, “All the fathomless others”, “Those feverish eyes”. The overall title “Alluvial”, referring to the deposits that form new landscapes from floodwaters, is a metaphor for how technologies – AI, social media – are taking over us, attracting us like insects to flowers. . Collishaw quotes sociologist EO Wilson: “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.”
Concerns about genetic manipulation are implicit in the enamel-painted glass and resin flower sculptures of “Eluvian” and “The Venal Muse”, which are intensely erotic, seductive but toxic. The purple petals mimic diseased flesh, scarred and knotted, or tunnel-like, sucking in the air; The dark red flowers are thorny, predatory.
Collishaw drew inspiration for her husband’s house from Baudelaire. les fleurs du mal And about artificiality overcoming naturalism, J.K. Huysman’s novel, à rebor, Huysmans’s hero collects leprous and syphilitic-looking flowers, with “skin studded with false veins.” , , The burnt surfaces of the flesh are surrounded by red spots and damaged by pustules.”
“Nature has at last been subjugated,” declares Huysmans, “man now plants flowers of different colors in the same species, invests new tones in them, adapts to his will the long-established traditions of his plants.” Modify the format. , , Gardeners are the real artists these days.”
From the tulip mania in the Netherlands in the 17th century to the French, there are hints through Collishaw’s show of speculation over more race flowers fin de siècle The obsession with imaginary hybrids and foreign imports symbolized for Huysmans the decadence of his era.
Description of the film ‘Even to the End’ © Matt Collishaw
Made partly in collaboration with video artists in Ukraine, Collishaw’s new film “Even to the End” features the Wardian case, the 19th-century invention that allowed living plants to be transported between continents but “the Earth Played an important role in changing the ecology of India”. With the funeral of Samuel Barber Adagio for Strings, echoing in the galleries, Collishaw has set Wardian glass cases with precious plants adrift in the open ocean towards an island, which evolves as we watch from fertile to burnt and devastated. The last glimpse of surviving matters on the horizon is a questioning note: can man’s ingenuity outweigh his capacity for destruction?
The battle is replayed in Collishaw’s interactive digital metaverse “Heterosis”, which launched in the spring. Now the horticulturist-artist is an NFT collector: This fantasy digital garden includes mutable flowers, taking the form of NFTs by combining genetic algorithms with blockchain technology. Each token is a seed with a code; Collectors pay for reproductions of increasingly elaborate hybrids – pristine, dazzling, surreal in their bright colors and intricate designs.
His virtual greenhouse is a post-apocalyptic version of London’s National Gallery, its grand halls, marble pillars, walls of paintings destroyed, rotting, overgrown with leaves, Collishaw says, “this old collection of paintings. The analog world has been neglected, destroyed, abandoned and this new emerging media of digital art in the shape of flowers is now taking over. This project is a huge contemporary vanitas, as well as a satire on itself. .
petrichor It is a visual extravaganza with brains and heart. Most eco-shows are serious and preachy. Collishaw’s conceptual art is at its most rewarding: curious, inventive and entertaining.
By April 7, kew.org