Mat Collishaw Interview Part Three
2008 Ultraviolet Angel
In this third and final chapter, Mat describes how his relationship with technology has evolved, why he thinks it’s important to maintain an edge and how he handles huge complex projects.
Angel - How did you discover those technologies, and learn more about them?
Mat - The internet is a great help but it can sometimes be quite limiting, books generally still have a wealth of information that I feed on. But for quick answers to complicated questions the internet can narrow down the area of research, and then point to a book you can read on the subject.
So you’re constantly feeding yourself with material that you’re interested in and eventually they become of use.
This area is of interest to me on a day to day level, it’s not as if I clock on at eight o’clock and start doing those things, I'm looking at those things all the time anyway. The films I watch, the books I read, they are all to do with these kinds of areas, so you’re constantly feeding yourself with material that you’re interested in and eventually they become of use.
2008 - Deliverance
A lot of the stuff I use is a hybrid, projecting onto phosphorescence you gotta use a particular kind of projector, so you’re trying to find something that works. With a normal projector or slide projector it doesn’t work with that particular technique onto phosphorus paint. So I use these moving head projectors which are designed for theatre shows and concerts, they are controlled by computers and you can move them around quite strictly according to your coding, projecting images burnt onto little gobos. The more knowledge you have the more you can use different processes together, and cross them over to make something new.
2014 - Black Mirror, Hydrus
Angel - Have you always learned the techniques to do this yourself or have you ever gone to anyone else for their expertise?
Mat - When I’ve got a specific thing that I want to do. Such as if I’m doing something which needs mechanical or electrical engineering and I need someone to machine the parts and assemble it for me, but often I’m using two different processes. For example; I made a laser scan of the major oak tree in which I used a group of surveyors to scan it. I’ve got another guy that I work in the Ukraine who processes all the data that would go on the scan to create the video that I want, and then I want to present it as a peppers ghost optical illusion so I’m talking to people in Holland because I’ve seen that they’ve done these big kind of hologram peppers ghost optical illusions.
2017 - Albion
I try to get as much information from specialists in certain areas but generally I’m managing the projects and on this occasion pulling three different elements together for the sculpture. I don’t have anyone that’s overall managing the whole project other than myself, which becomes my job, I’m managing all these different parties to make it work together.
I like to use technology but I also like to make it tactile in a certain way
Angel - How do you see technology impacting art?
Mat - Well I don’t particularly like it. I much prefer to go see something like the RA exhibition, the paintings of Charles I : King and Collector. And I don’t particularly like walking in a room and seeing a monitor with Samsung written on the bottom on a TV stand. It kind of looks like a sculpture but you haven’t designed the Samsung packaging - it becomes this quite generic shape, even if you’re dealing with a video projector the rectangle is a pre given form. I use sixteen by nine these days or it was four by three, ten or fifteen years ago… Why are you working with the parameters that have been set by a technology company?
So I like to use technology but I also like to make it tactile in a certain way, although I love the way that digital technology can seamlessly manipulate material when you walk into a gallery.
2017 - GASCONADE, Lawofsuccess
I see it as something that should be dealt with
I quite like the physicality of things and the fact that you’re in front of the thing you’re seeing, so I try to use technology along with other mediums and other materials, to fuse it together with things by getting rid of the hardware really. But that often comes alongside most modern technology. If I don’t get rid of the hardware then it’s really quite specific and strategic why that hardware is on show. I see it as something that should be dealt with, you could trace the history of art over the last five or six hundred years through the evolution of technology. The use of certain optical tools such as pinhole cameras, how lenses changed the way that people saw perspective and started creating images of the world. If you follow David Hockney’s theory of things.
I think he has some really interesting points to make about it, how technology changes the way we see the world, particularly how painters see the world. The kind of lenses in Holland in the seventeenth century, it was a new way of seeing the world, you look at a tiny insect through a tiny fiber and suddenly you could see it magnified, or you look at the stars through a telescope, it was all evidence of God kingdom, because you could actually see what God had created in detail that the human eye had never seen before.
So when these artists may or may not have been using these lenses, in fact they were painting what God had put there, so we weren’t really seeing before. All those textures on the walls, all that embroidery on the carpet or on a dress, it was very likely they would have had optical aides.
They were all things that technology allowed us to see, for them possibly religious reasons why they embraced it so much. Anyway then you get to a point where photography suddenly becomes a medium and a new technology. That changes the course of painting as the camera can document the outside world better than a painting can. So painting starts to go off in a different direction.
2014 - All Things Fall
Technology is important now as it always has been I think. It’s always been part of the evolving nature of art. But I try to keep something that is human in there, as otherwise it can be dehumanising. I can stream a movie now and you can see the way it’s been created. It's just visible electrons that are happening there. In quite a few of my works I try to show the way the image has been created with the illusion, such as the peppers ghost optical illusion and the three dimensional zoetropes you're able to see the mechanics of the animation happening in front of your eyes.
2014 - All Things Fall
Angel - What do you think your role is as an artist? What is it you’re trying to communicate?
Mat - I don’t like to take myself too seriously. I’m trying to make work about the world I see around me, I find a lot of questionable behavior on part of people and in terms of the way we advertise things, the way we consume things, the way we are exploited by imagery.
Technology is potentially going to be devastating for us on the planet.
All of these things are interesting to try and unpick. To find out what it is that we are creating when we’re making this simulacrum of the world, and how much that is divorcing us from the world or how much it’s making us understand the world. It’s kind of what we are as human beings that interests me. And for that I can fall back on so many different fields of interest, from that kind of evolutionary biology which I’m very interested in, to the history of art, and also evolving technologies.
Technology is potentially going to be devastating for us on the planet. The implications of these evolving technologies are all things of interest, I think I’d be negligent if I wasn’t trying to bring it into the work that I was making.
Angel - What do you think was the most pivotal moment in your career, was there a moment where there was a tipping point and things changed dramatically?
Mat - I’m afraid I still haven't had that moment. Hopefully it will happen next Monday. I can survive until Wednesday and then I’ll be in tears on the bathroom floor. I still do other work that keeps me going, without it I wouldn’t be able to survive. It’s just that the jobs get a little bit easier. I’m not working on a building site anymore! The problems with the jobs I do now is that sometimes they don’t happen. I spend a lot of time on research and development and then the whole project can get pulled.
I think it’s kind of good that you maintain a bit of an edge
I did a project with Jimmy Choo which helped fund the exhibition that I made at Galleria Borghese in Rome. It would be nice if I could make art works and live off these works, to be able to pay for a studio to continue making works, but that's really not the case at the moment, I’m still fighting all the time, in a way that’s a good thing.
I think it’s kind of good that you maintain a bit of an edge anyway. And I think too much success and everything that comes with it can be quite damaging, partially because you become a bit deluded. Nobody's that honest with you, and what have you got to struggle for if you’ve already got everything you need?
2017 - Thresholds
Angel - How do you handle fear? If for example the VR project you did, where you are working with lots of major galleries. I imagine it was an expensive project, how do you manage that sort of pressure?
Mat - I work with Rebecca King Lassman, she’s our fashion and events Manager, she’s really good at the overall production. Because suddenly I realised I was not only dealing with the creation of the work. There’s also a hell of a lot of research involved, plus talking with historians, photo historians and then collating all that information together to create a CGI environment.
At the same time we were building an actual physical room, researching all the technology and how it’s actually going to work. We had to acquire the technology which proved to be quite challenging, and then pulling all these elements together on top of all that. Which is the organisation of the exhibition, organising the venue, getting in there, doing risk reports, insurance for the equipment and for the people coming in to see it etc.
2017 - Thresholds
2017 - Thresholds
Also dealing with the audience in general, such as queuing systems, how are they going to buy tickets? How are they going to know when it’s their time? How are you going to deal with where their coat gets stored whilst their in? Where will their bag be? And what if that gets stolen? Then what happens? Another thing is the fact that certain infections can be passed on from VR headsets, so you’ve got to clean them with disinfectant and antibacterial wipes. Utility belts and batteries charging etc, it's massive.
So Rebecca came on board to help with things such as transport, installation, invigilation, training staff and technical support. And then the de-installation. Travelling to the next venue and doing it all over again.
I’m still accountable
But I have to know all these things, because if there are unforeseen things and she hasn’t picked up on it, I need to know. So even though I can delegate quite a bit to her, I’m still accountable. I have to pay her and find the money from somewhere, it’s not a money making venture, so it’s quite an expensive thing to put out. I have to be aware of any eventualities, so it runs as efficiently as possible. Because inevitably with something like that a computer headset is going to go down, a cable is not going to work, you’re going to get problems.
2018 The Mask Of Youth
Angel - Last time we spoke was a few years ago, and I remember you telling me you had
seven shows in four months. You also had a big show at the Rudolfinum, in Prague, and it was the biggest show you’ve ever done, how did you find that experience?
It was lots of work and lots of complicated installs, so I needed to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible. The kind of work that I make is all about the planning, because if you forget one little ingredient, suddenly everything cascades into a big heap of shit. So it’s just making sure every single angle is covered, everything is delegated to the right people, they all know what it is that they’ve got to do. It’s kind of like bringing a plane into land and making sure that one little thing doesn’t throw everything off and kill everybody onboard.
Angel - I also remember you were just about to show at Queens House, Greenwich,
which is a beautiful building, where Elizabeth I lived and they were asking artists to make work about their collection. So after showing in such prestigious places what’s next for you? Are you still able to make plans or has everything been put on hold? Do you have any plans to do any virtual exhibitions?
I was halfway through Art directing a film to accompany Faure's Requiem when Covid struck. We had to cancel the final shoot and now, with Theatres and concert halls severely compromised, I'm not sure when we are going to get the opportunity to resurrect it.
I've also been working on The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a work about the villainous history of the Ghent Altarpiece with 4 industrial robots and large LCD screens. This was due to open late March and will finally open with a limited capacity next Friday 26th June At St Nicholas Church in Ghent.
I have several other projects ongoing; including a virtual experience where viewers will be able to interact with a live actor, in the form of a digital avatar and various other characters, in one of the most unnerving establishments in history.
To see more of Mat's work take a look at his website - https://matcollishaw.com/