Lakeside Arts Djanogly Gallery - Nottingham
East Midlands

Amongst the usual mayhem of school run, piano and the drop/collect of my daughter at Guides, I had every intention to pitch up at the Matt Collishaw preview at Djanogly Friday 13th March, but never quite got there. I got there by the Sunday, leaving with the avowed intention to review it. Come Tuesday and the emerging Covid crisis, the Gallery was closed to the public for the foreseeable future. A week later came domestic lockdown and seeing pasta in my local Coop became a mere aspiration. Over two weeks later I have finally gotten around to write up this lingering memory of a stunning show. Luckily seen just before it all went wrong.

On entering the first space, I was greeted by a hovering monochrome apparition of the Major Oak from Sherwood Forest. Unlike the rather tired, knackered and underwhelming propped up tree itself, this large high contrast spectre, utilising vintage projection trickery was nothing short of enigmatically bewitching. And you cannot beat art for elevating life into something altogether more spectacular. This piece was very much the overture to a retro aesthetic hybrid of  ‘the age of enlightenment meets Mary Shelly spookiness’, that pervades throughout the whole show. The subtle support act for this particular work was a series of beautifully crafted still life photographs of death row inmates last meal requests, translated into the genre of Dutch still life paintings. Shot with sensual dark backgrounds, elegant chiaroscuro and set in retro frames these images are simply gorgeous. I could have left at this point more than satisfied, but there was much more on the table.

In the anterior chamber, a delightfully eccentric and inventive take on the traditional zoetrope, using revolving plastic flowers, plastic humming birds and other artificial construct of nature, spins amongst stroboscopic light to create an animated depiction of natural history in all its wonder. Arguably like a contemporary artistic deconstruction of Darwinian references. Again more wonder and visual entrapment. When the spinning stops the mechanism becomes revealed, but the charm is not lost even when you move from magic to nuts and bolts.

Moving into the adjacent gallery extension, ‘Found’ crime scene photographs from the Midlands are coated with phosphorous and encased in Frankenstein like suspended glass vitrines. Light sources evocative of old school flash technology, emit intermittent bursts of light accompanied by sound, to temporarily reveal stark black and white images, including my favourite, a good old fashioned outdoor lavatory, before slowly fading away. This building sense of cinematic spookiness embraces a degree of theatricality and uses darkness and shadows to craft this, but is extremely well crafted and never gets close to Vaudeville.

The final space has a series of mechanical bird forms which react to motion sensors and appear to be learning how to feed themselves in a Pavlovian conditioned response. They move slowly and robotically and periodically open a feeding hatch. And whilst clearly this is the most evidentially contemporary in a technological sense, they still exude a sense of retro enlightenment aesthetics. Again delightful, entrancing work.

This show is quite simply the best thing I have seen in a while, in terms of its beauty, elegance, enchantment and intelligent referencing. It is truly odd to think of this wonderful show switched off and mothballed. However much of the art we see is inevitably as a secondary extension of someone else’s primary encounter and hopefully you can extract some of the gist of this wonderful show from my words.

I have always rated Collishaw as one of the better of his peers. I here bye place him right up there. I also congratulate Neil Walker for bringing this show to Nottingham. Albeit, for a couple of days. I would love to see him simply shunt the future programme along so this show gets the airing it richly deserves.

Footnote: Normally I check my facts, but the idea of writing from memory, in these changed  times somewhat appealed.