The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

Mat Collishaw brings blooms, birds and Merry Old England to Blain Southern


At the same time as Damien Hirst was unveiling his grand Venetian extravaganza (or folly, depending on your point of view) back in London last night (6 April) his old Goldsmith’s buddy Mat Collishaw was also opening a pretty spectacular show of his own at Blain Southern. The title piece of The Centrifugal Soul (until 27 May) is a giant spinning zoetrope that when hit by strobe lights becomes a pulsating explosion of exotic avian display, with strutting bowerbirds, birds of paradise and a multitude of hummingbirds hovering before opening and closing blooms. 

Arguably attracting just as much attention, was another new installation featuring a giant projected image of the Major Oak, a 1000-year-old oak tree in the centre of Nottingham’s Sherwood Forest that, according to local folklore, sheltered Robin Hood and his Merry Men. What is arguably the most famous tree in Britain has, since the Victorian times, been propped up by an elaborate series of crutches, chains and supports. In Collishaw’s semi-transparent, slowly rotating spectral incarnation it looks especially sickly, crippled and on its last legs.

Mat Collishaw's Albion (2017)

“The tree wants to collapse and die but it is not being allowed to,” Collishaw told me. “It’s being kept alive against its will because people want to believe in this idea of Robin Hood and Merry Old England. Even though it is a myth that never really existed.” To drive this point home, the name of the piece is Albion and in the context of Brexit the symbolism couldn't be clearer. “The idea is that Old England should be laid to rest and to let die,” Collishaw confirms.

Over in Europe it seems that Hirst is pulling out every stop to create new myths and fictions, whereas back home Collishaw is proposing that outdated beliefs should be dismantled and laid to rest. I know which side I’m on. Regardless of whether he really existed, in the current climate perhaps we should still hang on to Robin Hood’s maxim that the rich should be made to give to the poor.